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22: On Christmas

December 26, 2011

Another Christmas come and gone. I guess this means a lot of different things to different people. For me, it means the blessed end of Christmas music for at least another 340ish days.

I’ve never been a fan of carols, religious or otherwise. I’m not sure if the fact that I was never a church-goer had anything to do with that. Most of the classic Christmas songs are about Jesus, after all. I didn’t have much context for Christmas songs, nor did I ever develop the sentimental attachment to them through family gatherings in the way that my friends did. For at least the past decade, I’ve cringed when bombarded by the inevitable post-Thanksgiving onslaught of “Jingle Bell Rock” and the flavor-of-the-year pop star singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Humbug, I say!

I wasn’t always an anti-Christmas-Jingle Grinch. I do remember a set of cassette tapes I owned back in elementary school that held a number of Christmas stories and songs which I remember listening to over and over. I even taught myself how to play “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” on the flute for some kind of fifth grade talent show audition. I remember the pride I felt when I played the simple melody in the accompanying music book and then followed it up with a variation I’d learned by ear from the cassette. The judges were puzzled, but I think impressed. Nevertheless, I didn’t make the talent show.

So what happened? It’s hard to pinpoint whether it was teenage faux-goth anti-establishmentism or the years of working in the mall during Christmas season that completely turned me off of Christmas songs, but all I know is that when I hear Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” I feel a primal sort of rage normally reserved for when I watch Republican primary debates.

The popular webcomic “xkcd” recently published this:


I laughed. I appreciated the comedy. But a recent episode of a podcast provided a different analysis of this phenomenon. What if Christmas songs are another way of passing on the culture of the past to future generations? Would kids today have ever heard Bing Crosby if not for his famous recording of “White Christmas”? Or the 1940s classic “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”? I think music is one of the best and most accessible ways of introducing a new generation of the culture of their predecessors. Even I have to grudgingly admit that the number of Christmas classics that emerged from the 40s and 50s say something about the culture of the time. I am by no means a musical purist who believes “good music” stopped being produced after the 70s or 80s or name-the-decade-of-your-choice-because-everything-after-that-is-crap-and-not-worth-listening-to. Music, like food or any other aspects of culture, is one of the many ways we grow to understand one another.

My point is, I think I’ve been able to declare an uneasy truce with Christmas music. Will I listen to these songs willingly? No way. But will I subject future generations to this aural torment? In the name of anthropology, absolutely.

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