Because it’s the current year of 2017, every cool hot take and Correct Opinion™ regarding the Christmas season is that Christmas music is out of style. We make memes out of white girls singing Mariah Carey and roll our eyes when we hear “Wonderful Christmastime” for the millionth time this week. Maybe it’s just the campus environment, where finals stress looms over what should be a holly-jolly season, but Christmas music seems to be less and less of a part of the holidays each year.
This baffles me. Christmas would not be the same for me without the familiar records upon which my memories are etched. Once I start hearing my old holiday favorites, my spirits are lifted in a way that no other music can match. I’ve never roasted chestnuts on an open fire, but the moment I hear Nat King Cole come on the radio, I feel a warmth that can only be properly contrasted with the chill I get when I hear the opening bars of “Mary Did You Know?”
I understand where some of the disillusionment with Christmas music comes from. The basic pop tunes, while bearable early in the season, lose their flavor as rapidly as Charlie Brown’s tree loses needles. I can only hear so many passé pop singers’ renditions of “Santa Baby” before I switch for a new Pandora station, and I admittedly have the Wrong Opinion™ that Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is merely, to quote the very un-festive American Psycho, “okay, I guess.” However, like every other facet of the Christmas season, the commercialism can’t hold a candle to the true Christmas spirit.
With music, it’s the traditional hymns and carols that truly speak to me. These time-tested tunes are great in any arrangement by any artist. There are more jubilant songs of praise, like “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Joy to the World,” which can take my breath away—quite literally in the case of the “Glooooooooooooooooria” in “Angels We Have Heard On High.” Intermingled with those are the softer, more reflective and solemn songs such as “Away in a Manger” and “Silent Night” which focus on the significance of the Christmas story.
My favorite Christmas song is the perfect mix of the two: “O Holy Night.” Generally, “O Holy Night” is slower paced and more solemn, but its focus on the redemptive power of God rouses it to grandness as the song progresses (I’ve attached a particularly moving version of the song by Hillsong here). As the song lays out the gospel, its calls to the listener to “fall on your knees” in immersive surrender at the awesome victory of Christ are stirring. The moving power of “O Holy Night” shocks me with the momentousness of Christmas every time I hear it.
The second verse, which was criminally omitted from Mariah Carey’s version (sorry Mariah, I’ve been very hard on you in this article), includes my favorite line in the song:
“Chains shall he break
For the slave he is our brother
And in his name
All oppression shall cease”
In this stanza, I understand why so many people dislike Christmas music and the general Christmas season. We live in a broken world, and everybody has deep pains and hurts that occupy our thoughts and our emotions. It’s hard to feel happy and festive when we are faced with the tragedies of life, but every December, Walmart, Hallmark, Starbucks, and countless other companies try to sell us happiness.
That clearly isn’t the answer. People who feel forced into happiness can’t truly be happy at all, so when everything around you is blaring “have a holly-jolly Christmas,” it’s understandable to want to turn the music off. But in this line from “O Holy Night,” the truth shines through: all of the brokenness that we are mired in is the reason we have Christmas at all.
The Christmas story tells us that Christ came to end all of that. The enmity between family members, the injustices of society, and the ensnaring habits of sin that we live in are all what Jesus came to save us from. They are the chains that he shall break, and has already broken.
Because of this, we have joy. Joy can’t be sold in a store or strung along a rooftop in multiple flashing colors, nor can the Grinch carry it away on his sled. But joy can be found in hearing a song that reminds you of the truth that makes it all possible, that plants that joy in the first place. That’s what Christmas music means to me, and that’s why I don’t think that it will ever be out of style.
*Photo credit: ©Thinkstock/artisteer