Christmas Music is at The Core of Christmas Commercialism But This Might Not Be so Bad
t’s about that time of the year when sparkling lights are wrapped around the trees, the city is decked out in all of its Christmas splendor, and people are starting to anticipate that giddy feeling of a jolly holiday season. But it is also a time when everyone is mercilessly forced to enjoy hours of nothing but highly annoying Christmas songs. Just about everywhere we find ourselves we cannot escape it. It all ends on the day of Christmas with the grand finale, a Maria Carey Christmas CD, that is blasted to include the most banal and irritating message of pure insignificance that is so corny it appears to be written with the aid of kidnapped and brainwashed elf.
Christmas songs are sappy and sentimental and that’s the whole point. In order to get you into the spirit of Christmas, it helps to be heavily inebriated with rum spiked eggnog. You start to tap your foot and sing along to “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”. You get bleary eyed when “I’ll be Home for Christmas” or “White Christmas” comes on. The problem is that this only happens for about 20 minutes before you suddenly awaken from this Christmas stupor and find yourself saying, “why am I listening to this again?” I feel like Christmas songs are forced down our ears at every turn and worse, we have been taught that these songs put us in the Christmas spirit, as if somehow if we listen to them enough we will actually become jolly. Unfortunately this routine has the opposite effect on me personally and I believe it leads right to holiday depression. The ultimate fact is that Christmas songs are more clever than that, they actually have money spelled all over them.
For many people, as the Christmas music begins to pour out of every nook and cranny, it has the inspirational drive that gets everyone out shopping. That’s one of the greatest commercial virtues. For years merchants have perfected the art of creating the perfect Christmas environment by carefully introducing scents of pine, cinnamon and mulled cider, joined by the sounds of Christmas music. This commercial strategy has payed off handsomely as people tend to buy much more when they are properly induced to a Christmas state of mind. Christmas music if played enough, will eventually soften people’s hearts and promote the spirit of generosity.  Bah, Humbug, but really not all of the season’s messages are bad. But what about the blatant emotional manipulation of the Christmas spirit and how the music is at the center of what’s pulling our heartstrings. I have to ask myself, where the idea of Christmas music came from?
Somehow we have the idea that the classic Christmas songs were composed at a magical Christmas hideout in some distant place North by Santa’s elves. Maybe not the North Pole, but from all over pagan Europe, and for thousands of years, Christmas songs were sung to celebrate the winter solstice. As was the custom, songs called Carols meaning ” songs of praise and joy” were omnipresent. They were performed in appreciation for the passing of the seasons. Since the Winter Solstice is at the same time of year as Christmas, just like many other Christian based holidays, it coincides with the original celebrations of pagan Europe. Early Christians borrowed pagan songs and converted them into songs to be used at Christmas. In 129 AD a Roman Bishop elected a song called “Angel’s Hymn” to be used at Christmas services in Rome. Later St. Francis of Assisi started Nativity Plays in Italy using canticles that narrated the story. Soon after that many composers throughout Europe begin to write Christmas carols addressing a demand they created. This was probably the beginning of Christmas music industry and the commercialization that ensued.
The early musicians were right about the profitability of Christmas music. Christmas songs like any item for sale at Christmas do better then any other time of the year. Not only do these songs sell, but the profits keep coming back every single year. Just to name a few, take 70’s Euro pop band Slade with their mega-hit Merry Xmas Everybody which generates an estimated $769,612.80 every year straight into their pockets. Mariah Carey earns $492,454.49 from her song “All I Want For Christmas is You” and many other tunes have also been extremely successful such as Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” which sold an estimated 100 million copies worldwide. But radio stations profit too.
All-Christmas music stations are the most profitable radio stations. Usually stations will switch their programming at Christmas time. According to Gary Fisher, president and owner of Equity Communications, WEZW in Atlantic City N.J. “when we do switch to Christmas mode is a like a Christmas gift providing an additional $250,oo0 in revenue each year”.
This is all great for who is making the money but what about the rest of us who have to listen to these songs continually? Christmas music is annoying because is repetitive and it immediately takes us to Christmas activities whether we want like it or not. What of the non Christians who are forced to endure a commercialized, religious celebration year after year? Christmas commercialism is relentless and unfortunately there is no escape. So it is more then the songs are actually bad songs with a shallow content, it is a force of such magnitude I find that I must simply relax and look at it as amusement.
I really don’t have the need to fight or resist because Christmas songs are not going away anytime soon. If the songs help to generate rampant consumerism at Christmas who is to blame? Christmas songs reflect something about our traditions and who we are as a society, their Christmas message is just a veneer. In the end, commercialism has taken our celebration hostage but that is just how we want it to be. But when sing along to traditional songs associated with family and friends and our larger community, we are just people longing to be with loved ones in a way that has shared meaning and is hopefully inclusive.
At the end of the day the best part of Christmas music is that it connect us in some way or another. We don’t have to fall prey to the commercialization of the season. We can instead find its original meaning of peace on earth and good will to all in our own way. It is time we take back our celebration and make it our own no matter how they are wrapped. We can start by simply taking care of others and by spreading good cheer and generosity. If that includes a little bit of eggnog, or expressing how you hate Christmas music so be it. I see no harm in that while listening to a little bit “Ring Christmas Bells”. Season’s Greetings to All.
- It’s beginning to smell (and sound) a lot like Christmas: the interactive effects of ambient scent and music in a retail setting
- The sacralization of Christmas commerce
- THE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS
- Incredibly wired Christmas music
- Most annoying Christmas songs
Image credit: Michael (a.k.a. moik)