Reflections on Christmas Music

There’s a golden rule that it’s generally impermissible to listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s to contain everyone’s excitement; maybe — as my girlfriend likes to remind me — it’s to preserve the sanctity of Thanksgiving, the best holiday. My mom, in the past a proponent of this rule, announced with guilt that she’s been sneaking Christmas music: “I’m usually able to hold off until Thanksgiving but I was weak this year.”

In the past, I would’ve groaned; I was, like her, a staunch proponent of the Thanksgiving Rule. But this year even I find myself slipping into a Christmas mood earlier than usual. So I broke. I listened to Barry Manilow’s Christmas album, then all of my Christmas favorites. And I feel phenomenal. Christmas is the itch, and its music is the salve.

While I know that Christmas is really just a time when all artists, new and old, can whore out their talent, time, and sense of shame to cover classic Holiday tunes for money, I like to believe it’s more than that. I like to believe it comes from the heart; I have to, actually, because it’s the only way I can justify being so nostalgic about it. It’s amazing how the moment I hear the first notes of “Christmas Time is Here”, I’m six years old again. I’m sitting in my dad’s Ford Expedition, southbound on I-65 towards a little cabin in Brown County State Park, in southern Indiana. I’m looking at my dad as he ejects the cassette and puts in another of his Christmas mixtapes. I’m bundled up and warm, looking at the snow-covered trees out the window, and singing along to some Andy Williams Christmas classic.

I think that’s why my mom turned to Christmas music earlier than usual this year, and why, with each passing year, I find myself needing it sooner and sooner and more and more: the nostalgia, not just for the holiday, but for the season itself. As much as I love December 25th, I love the whole month even more. Watching White Christmas as my family decorates the tree, moving the little Santa in our old, tree-shaped Christmas calendar. Laying on the couch late at night and reading by the soft glow of the multi-colored lights on the tree, watching the snow outside be gilded by the golden glow of the street lights. The memories of spending time nestled up indoors surrounded by warmth and music, family and friends (and, yes, pets) are some of my best.

So when it snowed this morning, even though it was only a brief flurry, I couldn’t help myself. I caved. I listened to Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” and I loved it. It’s a rare example of someone writing a new Christmas song in the last 35 years that hasn’t been them just whoring themselves out. (Tom Petty’s “Christmas All Over Again” is another.) I bounced along to the laser-beam synthesizers, and for a moment, I would’ve sworn I was back in my parents car. Just like the entrancing smell of baking sugar cookies, an ecstatic sepia-tinted fog clouded my every thought, and I didn’t mind in the least.

When I listen to Christmas music, it doesn’t matter where I am. It doesn’t matter what’s going on. What matters is that I feel a connection to everyone that I love in my life. And restricted by the confines of my 90 square foot dorm room, it’s all I’ve got. No trees, no lights. Just music, and that’s enough.

A wonderful Christmastime, indeed.


[A Note: I spoke only about Christmas music because, growing up in a Christian household, Christmas is what I know. I’d love to hear from those of you who are not Christian, regarding the nostalgia of seasonal music, in the comments.]

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