Monday, December 7, 2009

Do You Hear What I Hear?

There are close to 200 versions of “White Christmas” available on iTunes. And I think I have inadvertently heard most of them on the radio already this year. For the past several years, come mid-November, two radio stations on my car’s preset list change over to “All Christmas Music! All the Time!"

It’s not that I don’t enjoy Christmas music; I do have a nice collection of CDs that I bring up from storage this time of year. I just don’t understand the need to have it invade all my listening hours. Last year one radio station started playing Christmas music on November 1st –in effect, they devoted 17% of their annual product to these tunes. (And need I mention that these tunes are associated with a religious holiday that not all people celebrate?)

And speaking of the tunes, while there are many wonderful holiday songs being played – I welcome any chance to hear Nat King Cole or The Harry Simeone Chorale on a pop music station – not everything is listenable. For every Bing Crosby or “O Holy Night”, there is Alvin and the Chipmunks or “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” Blech.

Forcing Christmas music on us diminishes it. After all, part of what makes this music special is that it is, or used to be, rarely heard. One December many years ago, before satellite radio and 24/7 holiday music stations, the head of my department at work let us leave early one afternoon. As I made my way home, snowflakes began falling from the skies. And in a wonderfully serendipitous moment, the radio began to play “White Christmas,” one of my favorite songs. That happenstance became a wonderful Christmas memory of mine. Sadly, it is one that today’s young people will never experience.


  1. When I was a kid, Christmas music meant something. The individual songs meant something. I had my favorites, the ones that stirred certain feelings of anticipation and sentiment.

    This post really resonated with me. As stores and radio stations begin their holiday playlists while I still have Halloween decorations on the house, the music loses its meaning and becomes simply wallpaper, background buzz, nothing more.

    Thanks to Wide Open Spaces for reminding me to listen harder. The sentiment is still there, and the right song will still awaken those old feelings I loved as a kid. Think I'll make myself some hot chocolate and put on "Do You Hear What I Hear?" when I get home tonight. The Bing Crosby version, or perhaps the Harry Simeone Chorale. Not the one by Rosie O'Donnell & Elmo.

  2. You have stated the case beautifully. I particularly enjoyed the vignette you shared about hearing White Christmas on leaving work early one day. I enjoyed, also, the first comment. Thanks, indeed, to my writing comrade Wide Open Spaces, and to hot chocolate and good holiday music all round.

  3. Compulsory holiday cheer as a spur to consumption. Not my childhood memory either. But it is a cause worth fighting for. Avoid all places, shops and stores that play the so-called holiday music.

  4. Alvin and the chipmunks make me cringe (of course the kids love them!) It used to be after Thanksgiving the Christmas decorations and music would emerge, but now it is Nov 1st -gotta ring in the season with as much retail cha-ching as possible. It all just reinforces to me the importance of slowing down, and embracing as a family the things that are special and important.

  5. You got me thinking with this piece - too much of the wrong music can definitely kill the mood, but I agree that certain Christmas tunes strike a chord. For me, it's any of the songs sung at Midnight Mass - Hark the Herald Angels Sing comes to mind.


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