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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Tunespoon: So this is Xmas

Jingle bells, silver bells, it’s beginning to look a lot like a one-horse open sleigh ride together with you my heart, but the very next day, you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he is come, let Earth receive her presents underneath the Christmas tree, O Christmas we wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year!

Your broken bones from Black Friday are slowly healing, meaning that the holiday season is nigh. That also means that you’ve heard one of the above lyrics by now, crooned by the creamy-smooth voice of a ’50s legend or pop-ified by a fledgling starlet. The reach of Christmas-themed music is inevitable and basically omnipresent, and whether you revel in its cozy hot cocoa warmth or deflect it with bitter bah-humbug cynicism, there is no denying that ‘tis the season to make some sweet Christmas bank.

No occasion, no matter how sacred (perhaps literally so, in this case) is safe from the talon-sharp clutches of industry. The Christmas season is a magical time for the music industry, as artists of many genres capitalize on holiday cheer; this year we have offerings from YouTube all-star quintet Pentatonix, classical-crossovers Celtic Thunder, and the Frozen icy voice we’re all tired of. In past years, artists as well-known as Justin Bieber, as hipster-obscure as Sufjan Stevens, and as out-of-nowhere as Bob Dylan have released their renditions of Christmas tunes. What is it about Christmas music that artists from far and wide flock to record?

Nostalgia. Hope. That ideal altruism that Christmas specials instilled into many of us who, in childhood, sat transfixed by snowy greens and reds on the television. All sorts of good feelings come packed into these songs, shiny little presents in themselves raring to burst forth with holiday happiness. Christmas songs are hardly one-trick ponies either. Quick-moving melodies evoke the whirling, happy chaos of glistening snowfall; slow ballads crackle by the fireplace; sacred hymns are humble or triumphant or ominous depending on where in the Nativity you are. The Christmas song canon’s abundance of song styles, all of which generate endorphin-charged good feelings, makes for an incredibly lucrative business venture.

But, to be honest, the Christmas business is actually one part of the usually-evil, typically devilish music industry that doesn’t feel seedy or manipulative. The joy of the holiday season is a truly unusual special thing. It comes from hopeful celebration of the miraculous birth of Jesus, or the strange and loving act of wrapping boxes in shiny paper destined to be torn apart and thrown away, or hanging out with familiar company in weird knit sweaters, or not really subscribing to a particular holiday and jiving with the feel-good air of December. It’s like some sort of peek into a global armistice, where love is a warm and beautiful thing we’re all capable of sharing — whether it’s through Mariah Carey’s romantic profession of love to a significant other, laughing at the dark humor of Santa committing a gruesome hit-and-run on a young boy’s grandmother (whose belief in Santa Claus is affirmed, nonetheless), or Lennon and Ono’s idealistic and optimistic look into a warless future.

Optimism is something that’s so uncommon in the world that I embrace it any opportunity I can. Music whose sole purpose is to make me feel optimistic in a genuine, honest fashion is something I cannot turn away. Personally, I’m not one to deck myself in an ugly sweater or make cookies for plump, midnight chimney intruders. But I can happily envelop myself in the sounds of the season because, in that moment, I am convinced that the world could be a wonderful place.

Bask in holiday warmth with STEVEN ILAGAN at smilagan@ucdavis.edu.

Graphic by Andrew Li



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