The Darkish Facet of Christmas Music

That is an version of The Atlantic Each day, a e-newsletter that guides you thru the most important tales of the day, helps you uncover new concepts, and recommends the perfect in tradition. Sign up for it here.

The season of Christmas music––of Mariah Carey blasting in malls, carolers gracing avenue corners, and youngsters singing about Rudolph—has as soon as once more arrived. Followers of festive cheer are rejoicing, and haters are rolling their eyes. I spoke with my colleague Spencer Kornhaber, who covers music for The Atlantic, about what makes vacation music sound distinct, how the style depends on nostalgia, and why sleigh-bell-sprinkled tunes might be so polarizing.

First, listed here are three new tales from The Atlantic:

“It’s Good Wallpaper”

Lora Kelley: What makes a vacation music a vacation music?

Spencer Kornhaber: Plenty of vacation music is harmonically moderately darkish. However instrumentally and within the performances, it’s brilliant and cheerful. Minor chords paired with sleigh bells and a cheerful choir is a traditional mixture that unites many vacation songs throughout eras. Sure piano tones and lyrical subjects—of festivity and Jesus, largely—are clichés of the style.

That mixture of brilliant and darkish musical components suits what the vacations do for us. It may be a glum, probably nostalgic season, however it’s additionally one in all celebration.

Lora: Why is a lot of the canon made up of older vacation songs?

Spencer: For those who take a look at the Christmas canon, it’s all wrapped up in nostalgia. The canon hasn’t modified a lot over the many years. Every so often, a brand new music will sneak in there and stay in rotation. But it surely’s very uncommon that that’s occurred, particularly given how many individuals try yearly to make a brand new Christmas traditional.

What many individuals like about vacation music is that it reminds us of earlier holidays, particularly childhood’s. Plenty of what we take into account traditional vacation music was written or recorded a very long time in the past, within the middle of the 20th century or earlier. In our tradition and politics, that’s usually portrayed as an period that was extra pure, extra affluent, easier than our personal.

However plenty of these songs from the mid-century that we love to listen to—from artists like Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole—had been written at a time of disaster and responding to a temper of disaster. “Do You Hear What I Hear?” was written during the Cuban Missile crisis, and it’s formed by the concern of nuclear struggle. “I’ll Be Dwelling for Christmas” resonated throughout World Battle II, when troopers had been dreaming of being house once more.

Lora: Why achieve this lots of immediately’s artists launch vacation albums?

Spencer: It’s a straightforward approach to generate income. Mariah Carey most likely might purchase something she desires for a number of lifetimes simply due to “All I Need for Christmas Is You.” It doesn’t take a lot inspiration to create a music that sounds and feels Christmas-y. Covers are utterly legitimate and low-risk to try. So why wouldn’t you do it in case you’re somebody with an viewers?

Only a few of the songs turn out to be classics, however in case you do hit the jackpot, that’s nice. There may be plenty of urge for food for vacation music on numerous streaming platforms and radio stations. Music channels on cable play numerous Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, and Taylor Swift vacation tracks. They’re not canonical, however they’re good filler.

Lora: Some individuals love Christmas music; others couldn’t hate it extra. Why does this style elicit such robust reactions in individuals?

Spencer: The stuff that goes into this music is fairly objectively boring. It’s brilliant and cheery material, cliché sounds, sleigh bells. It’s grating. Additionally, individuals have all kinds of associations with the vacations. We’re not a monoculture anymore, however everybody feels the vacations a method or one other. For lots of people, it’s not a cheerful time; for different individuals, it’s the happiest time of the 12 months. Plenty of these songs have their roots in hymnals. For those who’re a churchgoing individual, you most likely have a distinct relationship with vacation music than somebody who’s not.

Lora: Do you maintain vacation songs to the identical requirements as different music?

Spencer: After I take into consideration pop music, I take into account: What is that this saying about society? How is it monitoring with traits? Vacation music will not be one thing that gives an entire lot of which means in my life. It’s like wallpaper to me. But it surely’s good wallpaper.

Vacation music is a sector that doesn’t change a lot. It’s a canon that grows very slowly. That’s the fantastic thing about it, and why individuals prefer it. A lot modifications on the earth, however what we hear to each December doesn’t.


As we speak’s Information

  1. The Justice Division filed charges in opposition to Hunter Biden on Thursday, accusing him of evading at the least $1.4 million in taxes on earnings he earned working with overseas corporations.
  2. President Vladimir Putin confirmed that he’ll run in Russia’s 2024 election for an additional six-year time period.
  3. A Republican-led Home committee launched an investigation yesterday associated to anti-Semitism at Harvard, MIT, and the College of Pennsylvania, following controversial congressional testimony from the colleges’ presidents.


Night Learn

An image of a mother in high heels holding her son
H. Armstrong Roberts / Getty

No person Informed Me About ‘Mother Ft’

By Yasmin Tayag

One night time in July, a number of weeks after my son was born, I lay awake, desperately scrolling by way of photographs of injured ft. The mounting ache from an ingrown toenail in my proper foot had turn out to be excruciating, and the web promised to assist. I might not deny the truth that the exorbitantly costly Hoka sneakers I’d purchased simply months earlier than—to stop pregnancy-related foot ache—had turn out to be too small. To my horror, my ft had grown half a measurement. Completely.

Being pregnant books had knowledgeable me in regards to the much less rosy elements of latest motherhood, equivalent to shedding hair (the newborn’s and mine) and uncontrollable crying (the newborn’s and mine). I used to be even ready for my ft to briefly swell by way of the trimesters. However nobody instructed me they may keep that manner.

Read the full article.

Extra From The Atlantic

Tradition Break

people standing among mountains
Ben Giles

Learn. Gabriel Bump’s second novel, The New Naturals, reveals the dark side of utopia.

Watch. Atlantic employees author David Sims has chosen his favorite film of 2023—in addition to 9 others that had been notable this 12 months.


In healthful holiday-music information: Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Across the Christmas Tree” simply hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the primary time (the charts began monitoring streaming numbers within the 2010s). The music, which Lee recorded as a 13-year-old greater than 60 years in the past, had trailed “All I Need for Christmas Is You” for the previous 4 years. Apparently, Mariah Carey sent Lee flowers to congratulate her. I loved this latest profile of Lee in The New York Instances and particularly love the element that she has a pillow embroidered with the music’s title.

— Lora

Did somebody ahead you this e-mail? Sign up here.

Katherine Hu contributed to this text.

Whenever you purchase a e book utilizing a hyperlink on this e-newsletter, we obtain a fee. Thanks for supporting The Atlantic.

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest Articles