Hearing you complain about it.
Like Nickelback or standing in line at the post office, the premature soundtrack of Christmas tunes that deluges our tympana every year after Thanksgiving is something we have all agreed to hate. By “hate,” of course, I mean “complain about with an intensity that’s completely out of proportion to our actual discomfort.” And by “we” I mean “everyone but me.”
See, I have a low tolerance threshold. I whine about 99 percent of what happens or doesn’t happen around, to, or because of me in the course of a day. So if something doesn’t annoy me, I feel confident in saying it is not annoying.
Nickelback, post offices, Christmas music—all not annoying.
I find it astoundingly easy to not come into contact with the collected works of Chad Kroeger and co. on the daily and even easier not to express an opinion about them. I have a goddam supercomputer in my pocket to keep me preoccupied when I’m waiting to mail a package, and in fact those Stamps.com ads on Spotify fill me with a Robert Putnam-like rage at how convenience is undermining our sense of community blah blah blah.
And Christmas music? It’s fine.
Yes, there are terrible Christmas songs. Yes, programmers shouldn’t play the same ones over and over. Yes, nothing exacerbates a foul mood like a constant haranguing to be of good cheer. But that’s true in general of pop music, of broadcast radio, of life itself. Even if you work retail and you’re trapped in a torturous, month-long loop of “Step into Christmas” and “Wonderful Christmastime,” would you really prefer an incessant stream of Adam Levine’s desultory yeahyeahyeahs?
I get it, Christmas is a relentlessly coercive holiday. As Alexandra Petri has pointed out, A Christmas Carol is basically 1984 but with guilt-tripping ghosts instead of rats and Room 101. Somehow the Christmas spirit is so pathetically delicate that a single derisive snort from a contented loner threatens its continued existence. Christmas can never fail; it can only be failed.
Still, it’s one thing to hate a style of music—tastes vary—but it’s another matter entirely to hate a song topic. Hating songs about Christmas isn’t like hating metal or country or hip-hop—it's like hating songs about driving or songs about the beach or songs about driving to the beach, a weird aversion to hearing certain subjects sung about.
Yes, but what if you are among the large majority of humans on earth who don’t believe a virgin birthed the son of God while a whole bunch of creepy animals gawked? Fair enough. Right there with you. But honestly, there’s not much that’s Christ-y about most Christmas music. If Jesus thinks he’s still the reason for the season, well, Ms. Mariah Carey has a thing or two to say to him about that. As non-Christians like Irving Berlin and Phil Spector have understood, Christmas songs have done more to secularize our corniest of holidays than Santa himself. Jewish songwriters and musicians won the real War on Christmas decades ago.
Christmas is corny to the core, which makes it ideal grist for pop music. Both pop and Christmas exist, after all, to remind us that to be authentically human is to be something of a cornball.
Well, sure, they both mostly exist to sell us things we don’t need. But also the “authentically human” stuff, that probably comes in second place. Third at least.
Play me off, Billy Squier.