It was somewhere around the 8,000th time I’d heard I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus that I realized something: I hate Christmas music.
Call me a grinch if you must, but I wasn’t always this way.
A few years ago I worked at an upscale gourmet food shop in Ottawa’s posh Rockcliffe neighbourhood, and I was usually the one manning the storefront stereo. For 10 months of the year this was the silver lining to an otherwise mind-numbing job. Within reason, I played whatever I wanted, as long as it was appropriate for the bored housewives, rich retirees and ex-senators that typically frequented the shop.
But as soon November hit, before the Halloween decorations were down and gathering dust in the garage, I was under strict rules to play nothing but holiday music from morning til’ night. Sure, hearing Bing Crosby croon about a white Christmas is nice from time to time, but day in and day out for two months straight? Well, it’s the type of thing that can drive a man to drink a few too many spiked eggnogs. (It also didn’t help we only had TWO Christmas albums on rotation.)
But even in the years since I left that job, my dislike towards everyone else’s favourite holiday tunes has persisted. Some are more tolerable than others, sure, and there are even a few numbers I enjoy (Grandma Got Run Over by A Reindeer will always elicit a chuckle from this here Scrooge), but, by and large, I try to avoid the entire Christmas musical canon altogether. The funny thing is, as unpopular as this view may seem, I know I’m not the only one.
But the problem is not only that we have the same handful of holiday classics shoved down our throats each year, be it on the radio, in TV commercials or at the malls during our annual shopping sprees, but the fact that these festive ditties don’t exactly lend themselves to reinvention. No matter how talented the artist, there’s only so many ways to sing about the perfect snowfall or mistletoes or chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
Sonically, too, there’s a certain aesthetic that we’ve become accustomed to in holiday songs. Just think, when’s the last time you heard a brand new Christmas-themed single without that instantly recognizable and redundant jangle of sleigh bells in the background? It’s ostensibly why we don’t hear a whole bunch of different genres tackle Christmas music with any kind of success. There are notable exceptions to the rule, like pioneering rap group Run DMC’s 1987 Billboard charter Christmas in Hollis, but even that track sampled other iconic holiday songs, like Jingle Bells and Frosty the Snowman.
And therein lies the problem: if a Christmas song doesn’t sound “Christmas-y” enough, nobody will listen. But if it sounds like the countless other holiday songs we’ve grown up with, nobody will notice. Really, these creative limits are a sort of microcosm of the boundaries major labels already place on their artists; as much as record execs clamour for the next big thing in music, what they really want is something safe, something they can bank on that is nothing more than a rehashed version of what some other platinum-selling popstar did in the past.
Because of course, there’s boatloads of money to be made in the Christmas music racket. Some of the top selling records of the last decade have been holiday-themed, like Josh Groban’s quintuple platinum (!!) Noël, or Michael Bublé’s unimaginatively titled 2011 album Christmas, which remains his best selling release to date. But neither of those artists — or any of the pop juggernauts that have thrown their hats into the holiday album ring — are exactly reinventing the wheel. The bulk of their tracks are simply repackaged Christmas classics, updated for another generation of listeners who will eventually tire of these songs just like their parents did before them.
And in today’s fickle mainstream music industry, whenever an artist does release a Christmas album of their own, it always feels a little like a sell out, a transparent cash grab seeking to capitalize on the deep-seeded sentimentality society attaches to the holiday season.
And if I’m being honest, that’s probably why I resent Christmas music more than any other reason: it’s yet another way we’ve managed to commercialize the one time of year we should be celebrating the authentic, the genuine, the heartfelt emotions we are lucky enough to share with our friends and family.
Down with Christmas music.
Hop aboard the Polar Express
The Christmas classic hits the big screen at Legends Whistler on Dec. 18, just in time for the holidays. All ages are welcome to bring a blanket and pillow and get comfy for the screening. Seats will be limited. Admission is free, but guests are encouraged to bring a food item for the Whistler Food Bank. The film starts at 3:30 p.m.
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
Get in the festive mood with a dramatic reading of the timeless holiday tale, A Christmas Carol, at the Whistler Public Library on Dec. 18. The Dickens classic starts in the Fireplace Lounge at 7:30 p.m. Please bring a non-perishable food item for the Whistler Food Bank as admission.
Vibe Tribe's winter show
Whistler's Vibe Dance Centre is putting on their winter show this Friday and Saturday (Dec. 20 and 21), called The Kingdom of Kaldriss and the Lost Spirit, at the Whistler Conference Centre. Featuring Whistler's favourite dance crew, The Vibe Tribe Dance Team, the show kicks off at 6:45 p.m. Doors are at 6:15 p.m.
Call the centre for tickets at 604-966-8423 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.