NASHVILLE - Bright, cheery holiday music has begun playing ad nauseam on the radio, in shopping malls, and on television commercials. But if you're not feeling the Christmas spirit, there's still a song for you.
Take Elvis' mournful "Blue Christmas," released in 1957, which has become a holiday staple. Or Stevie Wonder's "Someday at Christmas," a Vietnam War-era song about wishing for a world where all men could live in equality and peace.
A few contemporary artists are also tapping into less-than-jolly emotions to write new songs for Christmas.
Contemporary Christian pop singer Amy Grant is synonymous with Christmas. She has put out several Christmas albums over her career, including a couple that went platinum, and she regularly hosts holiday tours and performances.
But some fans have told her their holidays weren't always so joyous.
"I've recorded a lot of Christmas music, but I thought what I haven't done is to consider somebody that spends their holidays alone," Grant said during an interview in Nashville. "I want to make a record for an audience of one. I want to tell one person 'Merry Christmas,' and I want to be willing to sit there in the sadness, too."
Her new holiday album, Tennessee Christmas, which has reached No. 3 on Billboard's Holiday Album chart, includes several nontraditional yuletide tunes: "Melancholy Christmas," "Another Merry Christmas," and "December." The lyrics speak to people who have no one to talk to, who have lost loved ones, or who have struggled to make it through the year.
Grant said fans had taken to her Facebook page to talk about their feelings of grief, isolation, and loneliness. And they have been reaching out to one another for support.
"My goal with this record is I am making it safe to say, 'I am alone,' " Grant said.
But not everyone is a fan of her somber approach to holiday music.
LifeWay Christian Resources, the national retail arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, decided not to stock the album. Jennifer Cooke, Grant's manager, wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post about LifeWay's decision and said songs like "Melancholy Christmas" were bringing people together, despite the fact that the song never mentions Jesus.
Soul singer Andra Day reintroduced "Someday at Christmas" last year to a new generation of fans when she sang it with Wonder during a holiday TV commercial. That song is included on her new holiday EP, Merry Christmas from Andra Day.
"I love that it has all the spirit of Christmas in the song, but at the same time, the message in the song is beautiful, and it's relevant, and it's selfless, taking an opportunity to celebrate Christmas, but to also say, 'Hey, there are things we need to address,' " she said.
Country singer Kacey Musgraves is new to the holiday-music tradition; she released her first collection of Christmas songs this year, A Very Kacey Christmas. Known for her acerbic wit in lyrics, Musgraves covered the funny side of Christmas with "A Willie Nice Christmas," with Willie Nelson, as well as holiday classics like "Feliz Navidad" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."
But when she thought about what she could add to the catalog of holiday music, she wanted to write a sad song.
"The sad side of the holidays, I feel like no one really wants to talk about to acknowledge," Musgraves said. "For a lot [of people], including myself and my family, there is a kind of sadness to Christmas sometimes."
She wrote the original song "Christmas Makes Me Cry" about feeling like the only one getting the holiday blues while everyone else celebrates.
"Ironically, that was very fun for me to tap into," Musgraves said. "I cried when I wrote the song, and I cried when I was tracking it."