While most classic Christmas songs don’t have much to say, they’re great for connecting listeners and spreading holiday spirit. Courtesy Public Domain
I'm a Christmas music junkie. I love when this time of year rolls around because I get to dust off the collection of holiday music I've amassed through the years. What makes this music so unique is that there is pretty much a one-month window to enjoy it. Then, like the tree and lights, it goes back into storage until the next season. There is almost no other music with that limited of a shelf life. Try listening to "Jingle Bells" in July, and you'll understand what I mean.
My love for holiday music knows no boundaries. I will happily listen to an artist I cannot stand on any other occasion sing Christmas songs. Holiday music has a magical quality that overrides any bias I have. Jazz, rock, country or classical—I don't care when it comes to yuletide tunes.
In my years of listening to these songs, I have come to a stunning conclusion: The best Christmas classics are simply statements of the obvious. Holiday music leaves no room for interpretation. Most of them are almost painfully clear.
Take the lyrical mastery of "Jingle Bells": "Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. Oh, what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh." Is it fun to ride in a sleigh? I'll bet it is, but you wouldn't hear songs about it any other time of the year.
One of my all-time favorites is simply called "The Christmas Song," commonly known as "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire." The melody is beautiful, but the lyrics aren't exactly profound. "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Jack Frost nipping at your nose. Yuletide carols being sung by a choir. And folks dressed up like Eskimos." The timeless lyrics, which jazz composer Mel Torme co-wrote with six-time Emmy winner Bob Wells, tell us everything we need to know: There's a fire, it's cold, and people are singing.
Of course, the season's religious songs are also rife with obvious remarks. "Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head." "Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright." Those are not complex thoughts; they are direct and clear.
Perhaps this explains the popularity of Christmas music. The simple and heartwarming nature can appeal to all types of audiences. It's not difficult to wrap your mind around what these songs are saying, and yet the words convey much of what makes the holiday season unique.
To the credit of Christmas songwriters, it's difficult to write material with such a direct universal connection to audiences. Many people steer clear of music they don't understand, but nothing is easier to understand than Christmas music. Whether you're at church or in a store, the indisputable sounds of the season permeate the air. For many listeners, these songs help inspire the cheerful spirit that surrounds the month of December. While it may be straightforward and minimal, Christmas music does what anyone's favorite music should do: It connects people.
I challenge each of you to randomly pick a Christmas song and analyze the lyrics. You'll probably discover that it's mostly simple facts about Christmas time, but it will give you a head start on holiday cheer.