Love it or hate it, Christmas music has been the soundtrack of our lives the last few weeks. And not everyone is full of cheer about it.
While some people can’t wait to break out their Christmas tunes, 23% say they dread the Christmas music, according to a 2011 poll by Consumer Reports. Those people are likely steering clear of channels such as B101.1 FM, where the switch to all Christmas, all the time, often comes with a ratings boost.
We asked two local people to share their thoughts: Is there too much Christmas music this time of year?
Yes: I don’t celebrate, so I don’t enjoy hearing the music everywhere I go.
By Erica Perilstein
It started around a week or two before Thanksgiving. That’s when the soft music piping into each of my patient rooms transitioned from breezy pop hits to holiday classics. So for the last five weeks, all day every day, I hear Christmas carols.
It’s not just at work — it’s in my car as I switch radio stations, on my Peloton (which has a ridiculous number of Christmas/holiday classes), and every single store I go into.
All this holiday cheer puts me in a crummy mood. I’m not a Scrooge. I just don’t celebrate Christmas, and I don’t appreciate having it shoved down my throat for an entire month every year.
It’s hard to pick my least favorite Christmas carol. It might be “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” or “Jingle Bells.” I’d be happy if I never heard either of those ever again.
“It’s hard to pick my least favorite Christmas carol. It might be ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,’ or ‘Jingle Bells.’ I’d be happy if I never heard either of those ever again.”
I celebrate Hanukkah, and in past years, I’ve been able to link the two holidays together, so Christmas could remind me of my own upcoming festivities. But this year, Hanukkah was over Dec. 6, so I don’t have anything to look forward to. (Except Dec. 26, that is.)
I always try to make the best of the season. I have two young kids, and even though they don’t celebrate Christmas, either (and have never seemed to want to), we take them to the Macy’s and Comcast holiday shows and The Nutcracker. We also attended the holiday parade down Market Street on Dec. 4, which we all enjoyed. But I’ve been over this holiday for about two weeks now.
So many of my friends celebrate Christmas, and it’s so strange to me to hear them talk about how they pretend there is this mythical man who lives in the North Pole and gives every child a present in one night. I just can’t relate. Why would they tell this huge lie to their kids, and expect kids to trust their parents afterward? And don’t get me started on the Elf on the Shelf.
I don’t just dread Christmas music — I also dread the day itself. I like to do things around town, and Christmas is my least favorite holiday of the year because everything is closed. If anything is open, we’ve found it — in the past, we’ve spent Christmas at the Camden Aquarium and Longwood Gardens. And, of course, there’s always Chinese food and a movie.
This year, we have a great solution — my family is going skiing on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, when the slopes should be hopefully fairly empty. But we have to travel to Vermont because, of course, there’s no snow here.
In the meantime, I will keep trying to tune out the music that’s playing nonstop at work. The constant carols wouldn’t bother me so much if they mixed in some Hanukkah songs now and then. (And there are some good ones out there!)
Why not transition all the hoopla about Christmas to another holiday that’s more inclusive, like Thanksgiving? It’s nondenominational and all about family and good food. I’d be much happier with a month of songs, movies, and events about that day.
At least the month of Christmas is almost over now. Until next year.
Erica Perilstein is a physician who works in the Philadelphia area.
No: This is not a normal year, so we need Christmas music more than ever.
By Tyrone Whiting
As a British professional classical musician, a church director of music, a passionate educator, and an avid animateur for all music, I don’t think there can be enough of any type of music. As we find ourselves heading toward the second Christmas in this global health crisis, during which we have experienced such great pain, loss, and sadness, I don’t think there can be such a thing as too much Christmas (and Advent) music.
“I don’t think there can be such a thing as too much Christmas (and Advent) music.”
Choose your emotion, and there’s a Christmas song that speaks to it: joy (of “to the World” fame), sadness (“Blue Christmas”), excitement (“Mary’s Boy Child” by Boney M), or expectation (“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” a 15th-century French carol, or “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” to give two wildly different examples).
While not everyone celebrates Christmas, I recently heard an interview on WRTI with English soprano Carolyn Sampson, who performed as soloist in Handel’s “Messiah” with the Philadelphia Orchestra on Dec. 19. She said that “whatever you believe, whatever your religious beliefs are, we can all get behind the story of the birth of a child and the innocence with which they come into the world, and whatever may come to pass after that.” In this light, music can help us to bridge our understandings.
For those who complain that people start playing Christmas music too early, I say: Too early for whom? As director of music at the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Philadelphia, my adult and children’s choirs will start rehearsing Christmas music as early as October to ensure that our services and performances are to the best of our abilities. If someone wants to be reminded of Christmas in July, let them be so!
Then there are people who complain that Christmas carols are not “good” music. Whenever I hear that, my first question is always: According to whom? A Christmas song you couldn’t live with may be what someone else cannot live without.
For me, and many musician colleagues, what makes Christmas music Christmas can become much more specific than just genre. For example, my husband (who has curated all the Advent and Christmas playlists we have been listening to in the car and house) bought me a sweatshirt with a chord printed on it with the single inscription “Word” underneath. This is taken from the text of a famous reharmonization of “O Come All Ye Faithful” by the British composer David Willcocks — which for me, in this chord, embodies Christmas. Organists, singers, and Christmas music fanatics even have a game on social media where the one who can go the longest without hearing the carol “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is the winner. (There is an honor system, and that includes not phoning a friend and singing the song to them.)
In any normal year, I don’t think I would ever say there is too much Christmas music. In December 2021, I know there is not a single chance I would. The pandemic has reminded us all of the value the arts have in our lives: Music, art, poetry, dance, film, and even memes and TikToks are all mediums of creation we have turned to when our worlds slow or indeed stop.
So, don’t see Christmas music as “too commercial” (as we all buy our gifts), but use your love of music and the arts to continue to support artists and creators, new and established. And “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”!
Tyrone Whiting is the director of music at the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Chestnut Hill. www.tyronewhiting.com