Holiday Blues

holiday songs songwriting songwriting education winter songs Dec 05, 2023

I just did an interview where I was asked why so many people dislike holiday music. In preparation for the chat, I sat down and thought about this and found some interesting anecdotes that I'd like to share.

There are a few things I came up with - some relating to emotions and others relating to the construction of the songs themselves.

Emotionally, one of the reasons I think we find holiday songs so challenging to like - and I think it's potentially the biggest reason - is that they seem to tell us that we should be happy and joyful and that everything should be like a Rockefeller Christmas card - perfect. But that's so rarely the way our actual experience is. Often, the holidays are filled with stressors: travel, family (as much as we love them there is often discord), financial, disappointment - but so few of the songs we hear at this time of the year actually address these in any meaningful way. Instead, they're all happy and joyful and they can sometimes make us feel ashamed because we don't feel happy - but really, should we? There are a few songs that do go a bit deeper - My GrownUp Christmas List, Don't They Know it's Christmas - but even those resort to cliche lines and rhymes so that even they feel dulled.

Structurally, a lot of holiday songs have a lot of high frequencies - bells, chimes, high pitched synths - which for some can be a 'grating' kind of an experience. Additionally, the rhymes are often perfect and cliche: Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful...ect. These also lead to a feeling of perfection - and one we're not really meeting in our reality, so again, this feeling of cognitive dissonance arises it's lovely head. Additionally, much of the harmonic and melodic content in these songs is extremely predictable - so much so that we just feel flat listening to so many of the songs because it's just 'the same old' - not to mention there really hasn't been a huge new holiday hit for a long time - potentially because we as a society are tired of the perfect and just want something REAL.

I know for both Sarah and I, when we write holiday songs, they generally end up being honest and often sad or introspective - because that's how the holidays often feel. I've written a holiday song every year since 2014 and I think one of them is actually happy - and that was only because I gave myself the prompt of trying to write a more traditional holiday song. In fact, I just started writing a new one the other day - it'll be popping up on social media in the next few weeks once I finish it - and it's far from joyful - but it feels honest.

So, if you're feeling in a slump about holiday songs and just this time of year in general - or if your students are - maybe see what happens if you write a holiday song about how you're actually feeling and just see what happens? It can be something fun to do as a class, individually, or in small groups!

Wishing you all that you need during this time!