It’s Beginning to Sound a Lot Like Christmas

“City sidewalks, busy sidewalks,
Dressed in holiday style.
In the air, there’s a feeling of Christmas
Children laughing, people passing,
Meeting smile after smile,
And on every street corner you’ll hear…”

-“Silver Bells” by Livingston and Evans


We’re barely past Hallowe’en and already it has started: Christmas! The first trick-or-treater had yet to ring a doorbell, and yet the candy prices had been slashed and moved back to some obscure aisle to make room for the red, green, gold, silver ornamentations of Christmastime in every store. Most people don’t understand marketing, and fail to grasp that every retail establishment must promote themselves early and heavily as a good place to spend those Christmas greenbacks, even before anyone is even thinking about spending the first penny on it. It’s a cut-throat business, and the next two months will determine who is having a going-out-of-business sale in January and who isn’t.

This is the dark side of Christmas. (Well, one of them.) And since a big part of getting shoppers in the Christmas mood is playing Christmas music over the intercom, the music is tragically linked to this commercial overload. It doesn’t help matters that the majority of recorded Christmas music is highly saccharine. Even the edgiest of musical acts cleans up their performance when they do a Christmas tune.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Like many people of my generation (and the generation before that), I grew up listening to Bing Crosby’s album Merry Christmas, and I can honestly say that I never hear a single track from that album that it doesn’t give me a good feeling. Over the years, I’ve accumulated several other albums that I always enjoy hearing, sometimes even in the middle of summer. I love listening to the Vince Guaraldi Trio playing the music from Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown. The Singers Unlimited album Christmas is a beautiful a cappella collection featuring both traditional arrangements and jazz harmonies. More recently, the Brian Setzer Orchestra’s Christmas albums are a lot of fun. If you’re in a New Age mood, there’s Enya’s And Winter Came… and the various Windham Hill A Winter’s Solstice collections. I usually try to buy at least one new Christmas album each year, and I’m looking forward to sampling them to see which one I want this year.

Since its earliest days, music has played a major part in the Christmas season. Every generation has its iconic Christmas songs, and unlike a lot of other popular music every generation continues to value the old standards as well. It’s a path back through the ages. If you include Hanukkah songs, it goes back even further. Even if you aren’t a Judeo/Christian believer, there is a cornucopia of wonderful holiday songs.

As the season bears down on us, it is easy to get frustrated and disillusioned, reaching the point that once Christmas Eve arrives we can think of nothing better than December 26th. Let music be your oasis. It’s so common you’ll never have to listen very hard to find some. If a preponderance of Christmas music is making you grumpy, you’ve probably got it lumped in with all the other pieces of coal in your stocking. Separate it out, and make it the exception to the bustle of Christmastime. The music of Christmas is one of the things that truly make it the “most wonderful time of the year”.