Every year, people complain about how sick they’re getting of hearing the same Christmas carols over and over. The obvious solution to this would be to write some new carols. Unfortunately, the vast majority of new Christmas-themed music that comes out every year is hard on the ears.
I’m trying to think of the most recently written Christmas carol that I like. Let’s see: “Silver Bells” –1950, “White Christmas” – 1942, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” – 1949, “Sleigh Ride” – 1949. Is there something wrong with modern songwriters, or something? These songs are all at least fifty years old.
There were some original Christmas songs released this year – “Cold December Night,” by Michael Bublé, and “Mistletoe,” by Justin Bieber, to name two. Only time will tell if they become classics, I suppose. Still, with “I don’t wanna miss out of the holiday/but I can’t stop starting at your face,” (Justin Bieber) type of lyrics, I’m a bit doubtful. Cute, maybe, but hardly classic.
Many of the more timeless classics have this sort of majesty about them… “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “Joy to the World”… I don’t know, it seems the ones that have an undeniable weight and majesty tend to stick around. You know, the kind of stuff that can be sung by a choir. We need some new ones like this.
But when I thought more about what could be described as “classic,” it’s more than just being majestic. I see a clear difference between, say, “Silent Night” or “White Christmas,” versus “Santa Baby” or “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” There’s a fine line between classic and kitsch. Kitsch is fun and memorable, and you might get your song played year after year, but your song will also be violently despised by many (see “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”). “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is a bit on the edge of the line, but because of its earnest message about one young reindeer being given a chance to prove himself, many would count it as a classic. So part of being a classic is taking the song’s own message seriously, and genuinely believing in it.
I think this is partly a result of our postmodern cynicism. We can’t write a heartfelt Christmas carol anymore, because we’re cynical about everything. ‘Happy Holidays’? Huh, not for everyone! And so on – it’s easier to talk about grandma getting run over by a reindeer than be all earnest about the Christmas season. And if anyone does try, we laugh at the sappiness.
One last thing. While listening to the radio I realized that most music stars seem to know people don’t want to hear their uninspired Christmas-themed new songs, so they make sure a good majority of their releases are old classics. Unfortunately, they try to add originality by singing the carols with as many vocal gymnastics as they can muster – not a good decision, in my opinion.
What do you think? Are there any recent carols you enjoy, or you sick of Christmas songs already?
Note: I am a Christian so you may’ve noticed I mention a lot of the more traditional carols. I enjoy these, but there are several more “secular” songs I like as well. And there’s no way I will unblinkingly embrace every single “traditional” carol, as there’s a certain amount of them that are either wildly inaccurate, or pure sentimental mush. But that’s another post 🙂