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The Nostalgic joy of Christmas Music

For those that celebrate, there is nothing truly as overhyped as Christmas day. By the time the 25th rolls around the stores have been flogging festive gifts and holiday treats for months, the radio has been playing the same tunes since November, and quite frankly, there are only so many times you can watch Love Actually before it becomes depressing. It may sound Scrooge-like, but the anticipation for Christmas is often more joyful than the day itself.

Mariah Carey in the All I Want for Chrismas music video,

What builds this sense of overexcitement, and arguably roots the commercialisation of Christmas, is nostalgia. That feeling of yearning for a past time is captured so perfectly in our love and celebration of Christmas, and nothing embodies this nostalgia more than Christmas music. Each year we start the ritual of playing the same 20 odd songs, with great debate on when is the appropriate time to start. For some anything before December 1st is sacrilegious, whilst for others, there is no time limit on Christmas joy. Regardless of when you believe the right time is, Christmas music manages to have almost universal appeal due to its capturing of nostalgia.

Whilst Justin Bieber has put in a respectful effort with Mistletoe and Ariana Grande’s Santa Tell Me has become a festive regular over the past couple of years, most of our favourite songs were realised before the 1990s. It’s rare that multiple generations can know all the lyrics to a song, but with Christmas classics that is almost exclusively the case. Each year songs that were realised in the 1950s and 1960s climb up the charts and become loved by everyone from Gen Z to Baby Boomers. Classics such as Santa Baby (Eartha Kitt, 1953), Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree (Brenda Lee 1958) and Baby It’s Cold Outside (Dean Martin, 1959) our over 60 years old, yet capture the same feeling of nostalgia for 15-year-olds as they do for 70-year-olds.

Eartha Kitt, Santa Baby,

The birth of Christmas music goes back even further, to 4th century Rome. Latin hymns developed into Christmas carols in 1426, as documented by John Awdlay, and by the 16th century, we start to see secular Christmas music emerge. Songs such as the 12 days of Christmas and O Christmas Tree originate from this period, and in the Victorian era carols become even more popular with popular songs like Silent Night. Whilst none of us have relatives dating from the 1800s, the durability of these songs have embedded them into our culture. There’s no escaping Christmas music even if you try.

Victorian carol sings,

Ultimately, the universal appeal of Christmas music embodies why Christmas is so important to those that celebrate. It’s an opportunity to come together with friends and family and celebrate. The sentiment that people should be kinder and more compassionate at Christmas time, that it’s a time for doing good deads and looking out for neighbours in a way most of us don’t usually do, is so at odds with the hectic mess of modern life- particularly in 2020. The Christmas period reminds us of a simpler time, that probably didn’t really exist but that we think of when we watch old black and white movies or listen to the grainy recordings of songs from the ’60s.

Nostalgia isn’t about remembering the reality of a moment but presenting it as something better. Christmas music captures this feeling regardless of age or experiences, its a shared nostalgia for a time when we can allow ourselves to believe in Christmas magic and miracles. A time where we can forget about the stress of school, work or life.

There’s a real art to capturing that nostalgia, and it’s an elusive thing that advertisers chase each year to persuade us to consume more and more and more. Whilst the music industry is arguably a cornerstone of consumerism, as cynical as it sounds, I’m more than happy to buy into the nostalgia that Santa Clause is Coming to Town brings me. It may sound awfully cheesy, but there is something truly magical about Christmas songs that can turn around even the bleakest of days.

As we come to an end of a difficult year for all, I can’t help but feel the festive spirit more strongly than ever before when the first strums of All I want for Christmas or Fairytale of New York come on over the radio or whilst shopping for Christmas presents. Nostalgia is arguably one of the most difficult feelings to capture with art. Too heavy-handed, and it feels cheap, whilst too subtle and the feeling can be lost. Not all Christmas songs do it well, as the hoards of poorly received celebrity Christmas albums lay testament to, but more than enough do. Nostalgia is a powerful motif in art, and Christmas music captures it perfectly.

So regardless of whether you believe November is too early to be listening to Christmas music or you're already bored of hearing the same 20 songs on repeat, few can deny the magic of these songs. Christmas music captures the nostalgia that makes the holidays so special, I just wish it was acceptable to listen year-round.

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