The recognizable verses and melodies have long been a staple in creating holiday memories. Many traditions like cooking favorite dishes, decorating, and gathering together include listening to the sounds of the season. The holidays just wouldn’t be the holidays without those iconic songs surrounding us, setting the festive mood.
Nearly any memory plucked from yesteryear can be tied to a particular seasonal ditty, as will moments actively being created that are worthy of reminiscing . If you grew up in a religious household, there is a good chance hymnals are part of your Christmas repertoire. Though, regardless of your upbringing, unless you grew up completely removed from civilization, you are well-versed in holiday music.
John Kenealy of Turner, remembers hearing many traditional hymns as a child. His favorite then was Silent Night.
“Today, I still like the old favorites, but I also like Manheim Steamroller,” Kenealy said. “I also like Santa Baby.”
Eric Samson of Auburn, who went to Catholic school as a child, recalls that even though there was a certain amount of fun involved at the holidays, there was also a “degree of religion and meaning of Christmas” that seemed to underline the activities. Samson said he has equally specific memories of the holidays with family — Christmas music at his mother’s was notably different from that at his father’s.
Samson’s holiday memories include a repertoire of popular tunes like Jingle Bells, Frosty the Snowman, O Holy Night, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, and even Alice’s Restaurant (played on local radio every Thanksgiving).
“My dad was a fan of Elvis, and I remember Sinatra as well. The volume would go up a little for those,” Samson added.
The oldies are still top picks
The classics seem to hold a favored place with most people; despite the age of the recordings, it seems they are timeless in the hearts of those who embrace the holiday season.
Luke Michaud of Lewiston, said that old favorites made a lasting impression on him.
“Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, Brenda Lee, and Burl Ives, just to name a few, set a standard that holds firm today,” Michaud said. “I have to say that I still prefer the oldies to the newer songs that come out every year. I believe that most people, even my kids, concur with the special nature of holiday music from that era.”
“My favorite, for years now, is The Little Drummer Boy by Bing Crosby and David Bowie,” said Kenealy.
“My favorite Christmas song is O Holy Night,” said Samson. “It is timeless, regardless of who is singing it, and it has meaningful content.”
All favorites aside, what is considered iconic, or indicative of a particular holiday appears to be relatively agreed upon.
“I think O Holy Night represents the original idea of the holiday season,” Michaud explained. “The songs we hear the most on the airwaves however, are the ones that touch everyone.”
No, not that song again!
Not all of the seasonal offerings are adored and treasured, however. There are a few selections that, despite heavy airplay, are not appreciated by most. They are the kind of songs that cause instant sour looks, and get stuck in our heads the entire day, increasing the level of loathing. What seems to be one of the most arguably detested Christmas songs?
Hands-down for Kenealy and Samson, it appears their least favorite, and thought of as most overplayed holiday number is Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer by Elmo and Patsy Shropshire. Kenealy said he “hates” the novelty tune.
“The most loathed song is easy: Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer, as it is absolutely ridiculous,” Samson explained. “I don’t believe I enjoyed it as a child, and I don’t think my children find it amusing either.”
Even with the number of people who despise the song, it is still in heavy rotation during the holiday season, and is celebrating 30 years of airplay this year.
It’s not even Thanksgiving yet
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, it seems that holiday music is ushering in the season earlier every year. In stores, before Halloween arrives, decorations in red, green, silver, and blue catch our attention, and whether we mean to or not, we inevitably find ourselves humming along with the words drifting down from the store speakers. But just how early is too early for holiday music?
“If Christmas music begins too early, you end up tired of it by the time Christmas comes around,” Samson explained. “I’d rather end the season with wanting more, than having been saturated by it. October is definitely too early. Mid-November might even be pushing it.”
Despite this music being associated with warm and meaningful moments, it appears to have a specific time period in which those effects are felt by most. Too soon, people shake their heads, voicing concerns that the year has already flown by, but just when is it considered appropriate to let the festive melodies work their holiday magic?
“Anytime before Thanksgiving,” Michaud said. “I feel that stores playing Christmas music is only to dupe customers into buying. I know stores need profits, but I feel it’s just plain wrong. For me, it’s the only thing I dislike about the holidays.”
For Kenealy, even November is too soon. “Anytime before December 1st is too early for me. I would prefer not to have it start until mid-December.”
Rockin’ around the Christmas tree
Somewhere between the holiday music lover who would gladly play their collection in July, and the ones who would rather wait until the season is truly upon us to dust off their collection, there is agreement on one activity that holiday music absolutely must be a part of: holiday decorating.
“I have always played traditional Christmas music while trimming the tree,” said Kenealy.
“Kicking off the holiday season with Christmas music is only phase one,” Michaud explained. “Phase two is devoting an entire weekend to decorating the tree.”
Kenealy and Michaud, like so many others, said they look forward to tree trimming every year. While Samson doesn’t recall having any specific music traditions around decorating the tree, he remembers having the best of both worlds between his parents’ homes.
“We would assemble the tree; I think my brother would do the lights,” Samson said of holidays at his mother’s. “He and I would take turns putting on the balls with my mother’s guidance. At my dad’s it was a little less structured, a team effort with the three of us. Often times he would do it on his own, he would say it was for the kids, but I think the holidays — Christmas — brings out the kid in everyone.”
For the past 25 years, Michaud said that the holiday tradition has played out in his house. He insists on a real tree, because of the smell and the excitement of picking exactly the right one. After a day, he said, the tree has settled, and is ready for its holiday adornments.
“It is really at this juncture that the season truly begins for me,” Michaud shared. “Electronic devices are shut off, drinks are made, and the Christmas playlist is loaded, starting with Billboard’s Greatest Christmas Hits 1935-1954. I am in anticipation. I take my first sip, and press play: Bing Crosby’s White Christmas begins to play.”
Through the years, many classics have been recorded and re-recorded by a variety of artists. Take Winter Wonderland for instance. It’s been recorded by 200 different artists! The Christmas Song, widely known as Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, was originally recorded by The Nat King Cole Trio in 1946. Since that time, artists like Mel Torme, Christina Aguilera, The Carpenters, Sammy Davis Jr., and James Taylor have recreated this ode to Christmas sentiment.
Whatever songs you enjoy, it’s likely you have a version you are more fond of than others. The joy, thoughtful lyrics, and uplifting beats really do announce the arrival of the season of thanks and giving.