Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Since 1907
Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Stop telling me I shouldn’t listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving

Humans have forever responded to the time of celebration, renewal and hope that is Christmas with song. Why should we limit that heartfelt and joyful response to a period of three weeks after Thanksgiving? I love all sorts of Christmas music, though religious hymns do have a special place in my heart. Despite likely factual inaccuracies, there’s a certain value — a lovely habit of humanity — that tries to imagine what it would have been like to witness the incredible event that is the birth of Christ. Listening to Christmas music early reminds me, and those around me, of the unity and catholicity of the church immemorial, and reminds me in many ways of Christ’s humanity. 

A peaceful, jazzy sort of instrumental Christmas music sets a wonderful tone as well; it is generally light and optimistic. It doesn’t cause the undue tense stress some movie soundtracks create, and it loosens and warms a chilly atmosphere. Here in Michigan –– when daylight savings hits and the evenings get dark and the trees turn brown –– Christmas music can contribute to a sense of anticipation and hopefulness in the bleakness of late fall. And finally, pop Christmas music is simply fun. It’s catchy, upbeat and easy to dance to and maybe even reminds people of their loved ones. 

I recognize that not everyone agrees with me about any of this. The disdain for modern Christmas music is somewhat understandable (though also misguided and rather elitist). The idea that Christmas music could possibly be enjoyed before Thanksgiving is anathema to a number of people. And, while I disagree, I fully respect one’s right to hold those beliefs and even recognize the legitimacy of a number of my opponent’s claims, including the following ones which I’ve identified as the most plausible: 

  1. Christmas music is often used as a marketing ploy and we should resist the increasingly early encroachment of holiday consumerism. 
  2. Modern Christmas music can be bad for a number of reasons, including a tendency toward hyper-sexualization that imbues what was once an innocent holiday with heteronormative, harmful narrative expectations. 
  3. Listening to Christmas music too soon could possibly remove the nostalgia associated with it.

But I would counter all of these arguments first with the idea that Christmas music brings joy to people; to monitor and control when people should or should not listen to Christmas music does not allow people to celebrate in a way unique and genuine to them. 

Nevertheless, given the weight of these arguments, they deserve a heftier treatment than that. Firstly, the ageist argument against modern Christmas music doesn’t necessarily hold up. When anything argues against something modern explicitly, there is a danger of falling into the genetic fallacy — condemning something not on its merits, but simply its origin. Classic Christmas music from the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s also sexualizes the holiday. (See “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (1944) and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” (1952). If you listen to those, check your bias.) 

Secondly –– and more importantly –– humans care about romantic relationships, and therefore, humans sing about them. Critical consumption of media (including music) is certainly valuable and necessary; at the same time, even as one has done the work to realize the ways songs like “Mistletoe,” or “All I Want for Christmas is You” carry narrative expectations that simply aren’t truthful, it’s fun to imagine sharing Christmas with someone. It’s an intrinsic human desire to listen to music that gives voice to a near-universal human experience of wanting to love and be loved in return. If you want to feel a shred of human love and compassion and an anticipation of celebrating an important holiday with someone you care about before Thanksgiving, then by all means — you should. 

Another plausible objection to Christmas music involves its status as a marketing ploy. Stores play it to put people in the mood to shop, and it does feel as if department stores decorate and play Christmas music earlier and earlier each year. Additionally, the song “Rudolph the Red- Nosed Reindeer” (1939) was born in advertising. However, you have free will. Two things can be true at the same time: firstly, corporations are using music as a tool to get you to buy things. At the same time,you can also love listening to Christmas music in the comfort of your own home before Thanksgiving without buying things. If our often soul-destroying consumerist world produces some bops that provide even an ounce of happiness, I’ll take advantage, be it July or December. 

Finally, the nostalgia argument –– which in some ways is true –– states that the more familiar something becomes, the less nostalgia it holds simply because you’ve layered more recent memories onto the music or event. However, if you truly love something, you don’t love it less when you spend time with it; you love it more. Special things are meant to be enjoyed. To argue that excess exposure makes something less special may be true, given the concept of supply and demand and all that. But living in a scarcity mindset, where we must save all the specialness for one specific lovely time, is something I try to avoid. To listen to Christmas music early is to luxuriate in the positive emotions of the season and bring to the forefront all the lovely times and experiences you have associated with it –– all the while having even more time to make more memories.

Don’t be a Scrooge. Humans like Christmas, and humans like music and you aren’t that special for being dogmatic or elitist about it. Let me listen to my hymns and my Justin Bieber before Thanksgiving in peace. 

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