Why do we need holiday music?

by Jason Gross

16 December 2008


After reading a great article in the Wall Street Journal about holiday music, I thought back to a few days ago when I was finishing up my seasonal shopping.  As I heard the 50th version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” cycle through on the store’s speakers after being there for only a few minutes, I wondered what it would be like to have to hear that for about 7 hours a day.  “Does that drive you nuts?” I asked a sales clerk.  She couldn’t even answer- she just rolled her eyes and shook her head.

The WSJ article does go some way to explain the tradition of communal songs and why we like them (though we say we hate them) but I lean much more towards “hate” when I hear these tunes too much.  One reason that I love to shop online now isn’t just because I don’t have to deal with the crowds but also because I don’t have to deal with the same holiday music again and again.

Don’t get me wrong- I don’t hate holiday music.  I actually like to write about it and I always collect holiday albums.  In this week’s edition of Time Out New York (print edition), I wrote about a heavy metal Xmas album, a singing saw Xmas album (from Merge Records), a movie star’s band doing Xmas music (Billy Bob Thorton’s Boxmasters), a garage-rock Xmas album (Fleshtones) and a collection of festive humorous Jewish music.

The common thread is that this ain’t music that you’re gonna hear in malls and stores and that’s exactly why I enjoy it (also try out this mash-up holiday music).  As the WSJ article points out, the mush they play in stores is purposely generic so it’ll appeal to the most people.  Not to me though- I’ll try to block out that music and eventually just leave a store if I can’t and not even buy the present I wanted there.  It’s kind of a horrible reminder about everything that we hate about the holidays- how commercial it is, how sickly sentimental it is, how we have to buy into someone else’s version of being happy that time of year.  It can actually get pretty damn depressing when you think about it and the same ol’ music doesn’t help.

So why can’t stores be just a little more adventurous and try something other than the sappy, syrupy garbage that they belch out every year?  You might even attract some customers in this crummy buying season. 

If you need some other ideas for alternative holiday music, Other Music has thoughtfully provided some good downloads.


We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.

//Mixed media

Violin Virtuoso L. Subramaniam Mesmerizes in Rare New York Performance (Photos)

// Notes from the Road

"Co-presented by the World Music Institute, the 92Y hosted a rare and mesmerizing performance from India's violin virtuoso L. Subramaniam.

READ the article