Why Do We Love Christmas Music?
By: Brittany Worko @babysaygoodbye_
Iconic tunes bring life to many holidays. What would Halloween be without the “Monster Mash?” Music is also an essential part of the Hindu festival of Vasant Panchami, the Chinese New Year, and Hanukkah. Even so, when faced with the competition of on-air radio time or the Spotify playlist forum, Christmas music largely receives the popular vote.
Click here for Part 1 of Why We Love Christmas Music
Enthusiasm for Christmas music finds its roots in Victorian Era England with the production of Christmas carols. Later pop icons like “White Christmas,” “Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer,” and “Baby It’s Cold Outside” dominated the radio stations — America’s favorite pastime during the 1940s and 1950s.
A professor of music, Matthew Mugmon, points out the post-World War II trend was not unintentional. A build-up of media production took place during the post-war era, incorporating advertisements like Haddon Sundblom’s iconic Santa Clause Coca-Cola paintings and Montgomery Ward’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer character campaign.
This brief history lesson provides a short explanation for society’s obsession with Christmas music: nostalgia. Nearly all of the people I questioned about their attraction to Christmas songs alluded to happy memories in their answers.
On the contrary, some experts argue Christmas music can potentially be harmful to your mental health. Psychologist Linda Blair specified retail workers are particularly at risk for the holiday blues when listening to their store’s holiday playlist on repeat. “You’re simply spending all your energy trying not to hear what you’re hearing,” she told Sky News.
Matthew Mugmon suggests for some people, moderation is essential. The limited variety of songs is what commonly attributes to burnout by the second week into December.
So why does Christmas music make us merry? What is it about the music that solicits our jolly and why do we start roasting chestnuts on an open fire at midnight on Black Friday?
Did you know traditional Christmas songs are more popular than modern ones? That’s primarily owed to how our brains process music.
Click here for Part 2 of Why We Love Christmas Music
According to Brian Rabinovitz, a neuroscientist specializing in music cognition, Christmas music is strategically composed to please our brain. When your prefrontal cortex follows a melody for the first time, your brain filigree continues to seek out that melody. So when you eventually hear the melody again, it proves to be very satisfying. Most songs in the classic holiday catalog tend to have very predictable melodic structures, making it especially easy for us to recognize those musical patterns.
For this reason, older Christmas songs tend to be more lucrative compared to newly composed Christmas songs. Occasionally, a new tune makes its way up the charts and into our Christmas loving hearts forever. John Lennon succeeded with “Happy Christmas (War is over)” as did his former bandmate Paul McCartney with “Wonderful Christmastime.” Of course, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” has become a winter holiday staple. The potential reward may be why artists continue to attempt new Christmas songs despite the risk. If they succeed, producing a Christmas masterpiece proves to be hugely profitable. However, most of the time simply covering a class is more productive – queue Bruce Springsteen’s 1975 version of “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town.” When we listen to the covers, our brains are still meeting the expectations Rabinovitz mentioned.
Regardless of age, most Christmas songs that rank high on the charts have consistent musical similarities. They’re audibly joyous, danceable, and contain an overabundance of winter aesthetic.