The Criteria for a Good Christmas Song

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By: Jules Hoang

As the beginning of December rolls up in rainy days and boot wearing season, the holidays are unavoidable. The holiday times are usually defined with steamy hot chocolate, the stressful thoughts of gift shopping, the overwhelming decorations, the plethora of lights, and family. But what’s in the background of these usual and lovable holiday traditions? Music. Every Christmas season we hear the same Christmas songs: Jingle Bell Rock, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, Last Christmas, and of course countless other holiday classics. Bit with the millions of Christmas songs that have already been released and the hundreds that are released each year, why are there only a select few that are chosen to be branded as a “classic” and played relentlessly through the holiday season? What and how are these certain songs considered classics and why do we still love them after hearing the same ones repeatedly each year?

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Theoretically, you would think that if people are constantly putting out new Christmas music then, there would be refreshers of new holiday singles each year to learn the lyrics to and enjoy. However, as we all know from personal experience that assumption is entirely and absolutely wrong. It is insanely difficult to release a Christmas song and have it become one of the Christmas standards. In Allison Stewart’s article in the Washington Post on the difficulties of writing a Christmas classic she describes, “many of the rules to contradict the other rules: Don’t gloss over the religious nature of the season, but avoid specific mentions of Jesus. Be upbeat, but if you must write a somber holiday song, make sure the song’s subject is sad merely because everyone around him/her has forgotten the True Meaning of Christmas. Audiences like personal details, but don’t leave out classic tropes like snowmen and chimneys.” With this infuriating and narrow criteria, how do we expect artists to follow these set of cruel rules to make a national single that pleases everyone? You can’t, at least, not really. The writing of Christmas tunes contrasts greatly with writing regular songs, as you have to find an immortal sound that can last decades and decades as Allison mentions. With the already holiday standards, their songs have persisted so many years because of their melodies that have clung on with each new snowy season. Regardless of how old a Christmas standard is and how many times you’ve heard it, there’s no denying the warmth of significance behind them and the influence of bringing the furthest of people together.

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Hypothetically, you would think that after hearing the same sleigh-bell tune continuously each year, the public would want new Christmas songs to revive new retellings of the Christmas story and feeling! However, as we all know from personal experience that assumption is entirely and absolutely wrong, with a few exceptions. Now that we know from the artist standpoint why its hard to even attempt to write a holiday singer, why does everyone seemingly just feel content with having the same songs play each year until the seasonal lyrics are ingrained into our minds for eternity? It’s simple, really, you probably figured it our yourself: nostalgia. Almost all holiday classics have been around since the 50’s or 60’s and have persevered through almost half a decade and are still ubiquitous. We’ve grown up with these sounds playing each year and usually associate it with good memories and the childhood thrill of opening presents and giving Santa cookies. In an article in the US News, David Ludwig, a dean of Curtis Institute of Music is quoted saying, “A lot of these songs have existed for hundreds and hundreds of years and have survived the test of time precisely because they’re so singable, they’re so accessible, they’re so flexible, that they can work for a jazz ensemble or group of carolers.” In the same article, the author, Rachel Pomerance Berl, discusses further and quotes Jessica Suarez, Songza’s director of content, saying that if it wasn’t for the memories and just Christmas time in general, she wouldn’t particularly get excited listening to songs like Feliz Navidad, but it just reminds her of home.

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Christmas songs are a essential and, most of the time, inescapable when it comes to the winter months of the year. Even if someone utterly detests these songs, there are a good amount, they still get an emotional rise out of hearing them, no one can really be neutral toward the interest of Christmas songs. Even if we hear the same couple of songs each year, these holiday melodies will continue bringing the feelings of steamy hot chocolate, the stressful thoughts of gift shopping, the overwhelming decorations, the plethora of lights, and family.

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