What makes a Christmas song?


Photo courtesy of James Devaney

Mariah Carey performs her holiday classic, “All I Want For Christmas is You,” alongside Santa Claus in 2012.

Fleece sweaters, mistletoe, hot cocoa, crackling fire, and snowflakes falling gently from the sky — it’s that time of the year again. The most wonderful time! Whether you start celebrating on Halloween or Black Friday, the holiday season awakens from its year-long hibernation every year. It puts the world on hold to spread happiness and light, even in the darkest of times. Yes, that includes 2020.

For many Americans, the measure of whether or not the holidays have arrived is determined by the type of music they hear. If the car radio, the tv, and the Macy’s in-store speaker system are all playing holiday music, then the holiday season has arrived.

I used to have a very narrow view of what constituted “holiday music.” If it didn’t have jingle bells, Bing Crosby, or the word “Christmas” in it, then it didn’t count. However, times are changing. Die Hard is seen as a Christmas movie by some and Black Friday is no longer confined to one day. Perhaps my definition of “holiday song” needs to be expanded.

Upon talking with some WJ students who are rather passionate about this issue, it became clear that, although some songs don’t have anything to do with the holidays, they can still sound “Christmassy” and have the holiday spirit. One example, according to WJ senior and Christmas enthusiast Hannah Gardner, is “My Favorite Things” from The Sound Of Music.

I had never considered “My Favorite Things” to be a Christmas song, but then I listened to it again. Julie Andrews’ soothing voice along with the song’s boisterous string accompaniment gives “My Favorite Things” the air of a classic Christmas song. It certainly helps that the song mentions “Bright copper sleigh bells and warm woolen mittens,” “Doorbells and sleigh bells,” as well as “Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes.” Just like any other holiday song, “My Favorite Things” has been covered and sampled by an innumerable amount of artists in many different styles. Kelly Clarkson packaged it as a Christmas song when she covered it for her “Wrapped in Red” album.

According to Adam Ragusea from Mercer University, most Christmas songs are characterized by their jazzy chords which harken back to the early 20th century. For example, the uncommon Dm7b5 chord, which is made up of a minor third, diminished fifth and minor seventh, is used in both “All I Want for Christmas is You” and “White Christmas.”

However, songs without holiday vibes or special Christmas chords can still be considered holiday songs. Senior Matt Kennedy considers “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen to be one such song, despite it not having anything to do with the holidays. He simply associates the song with the holiday season, and I believe that may be the true measure of what constitutes a “holiday song,” or “holiday movie” or holiday anything.

When I mentioned “that time of the year” at the beginning of this article, the things that came into your mind were completely unique to you. Everyone celebrates the holidays differently, everyone has different nostalgic holiday memories and everyone associates different songs and movies with the holiday season. It does not matter whether or not the song contains jingle bells, Bing Crosby or the word “Christmas.” The “holiday vibes” are truly what you make them. They vary from country to country, city to city, and person to person.

And yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie