With Thanksgiving out of the way and Christmas right around the corner, Christmas music is being played almost everywhere – at the mall, in coffee shops, on TV and even willingly from some people’s headphones. A potentially sweet holiday tradition, the idea of singing Christmas music seems like a worthwhile pastime. In fact, it would be a lovely tradition if these trends did not start months earlier than necessary. This also would be acceptable if Christmas music was not terrible.
Christmas music originated from carols that were sung year-round thousands of years ago. When early Christians began writing these carols and hymns to encourage the celebration of Christmas, they became more popular than the ones for other seasons and, as a result, the Christmas carols have survived for quite a long time.
Songs listened to today, however, mostly originate from the same time period: mid-twentieth century. As a result, almost all of the songs written in that era have a swing-style, as jazz was popular in that time. An example of this is “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!” which is an insult to the rather complex genre that revolutionized music in the twentieth century (as are other “jazzy” Christmas songs that do not truly reflect jazz).
It also seems necessary to add the fact that the name of this particular Christmas song is quite redundant, with the same three words repeated (as a reflection of the two repeats of the main melody). Almost every song that has existed will repeat the main melody to keep a theme and a flow throughout the song; composer Jule Styne and lyricist Sammy Cahn, you are not special for following the rules of music like the title of your song suggests.
Along with insulting the principles of jazz, Christmas music is written to toy with listener’s emotions around the holidays. With chords progressing from major to minor and back to major (with some diminished chords sprinkled in), songs like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” simulate a false sense of bittersweet nostalgia that is often mistaken for holiday cheer. Often accompanied with sometimes-romantic lyrics about a desire to share the holidays with someone, the objective is to make the listener feel special by drowning them in relatable problems. An excellent example of this is “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” with lyrics like “Christmas Eve will find me / Where the lovelight gleams / I’ll be home for Christmas / If only in my dreams.”
The lyrics and melodies of these songs are just unoriginal, as well: all lyrics are either seasonal (“Winter Wonderland”), religious (“Silent Night”), mythical (“Frosty the Snowman”), or just generic Christmas cheer (“It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”).
As for unoriginal musical aspects, the perfect example is Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” compared with Phil Spector’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”. The resemblance between the two songs is uncanny. Plus, of course, no Christmas song can exist without the addition of sleigh bells to get that feeling of “holiday cheer” (sleigh bells are not equivalent to a merry Christmas, but it is important for listeners to feel that way for even a split second so they continue to listen).
Christmas music is an important aspect of American holiday tradition, but the unwritten law that months as early as September are susceptible to the torment of holiday songs must be broken and replaced with original, revolutionary music (kind of like jazz, until Christmas got its hands on it). All of the same Christmas songs that were written have stuck around for the fifty years they have existed, and this is just an absurd thing to be able to say about poorly-written music. Frankly, as a human race, we should have left these songs in the twentieth century where they were created.
Photo from Spotify’s holiday music page