Even though I don’t celebrate Christmas in a religious fashion, I do like certain types of Christmas music, and to deepen the irony, I prefer the religious Christmas music — the carols and the anthems — over the jingly tinkly stuff that overpopulates the commercials. I will take a good choral arrangement with brass of “Joy to the World” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” over some muzaked rendering of “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” or “Jingle Bells” any day. (Exception: I love a good rendition of Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride.”)
I think the reason is because the composers of those carols and hymns were doing it out of a genuine act of faith — or being paid by people who wanted to express it — so they put their heart and soul into coming up with something that glorified their belief, as opposed to driving people to shop at Wal-Mart. Songs that celebrate the holiday but skirt around the actual reason for it — the birth of Jesus — are trying to be inoffensive to those of us who don’t go in for the whole Son of God bit. But in doing so, all you get is a sentiment to celebrate something without a whole lot of meaning. So when you hear “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” or Nat King Cole croon “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” all you’re getting is the wrapping. And if you’re really going to celebrate the holiday — even if you aren’t Christian — you might as well go for the real reason and sing about the First Noel. For one thing, the music is a lot better.
By the way, I never understood why songs that celebrate the season without mentioning Christmas at all — i.e. “Winter Wonderland” and “Let It Snow” — are considered Christmas songs and get bounced off the playlist after New Years. Take it from someone who’s lived in snow country, winter lasts a hell of a lot longer than the final football bowl game. I suspect that by the time you’ve put away all the decorations and shoveled the driveway for the fifth time in a day, that “winter wonderland” has you looking at Travelocity for a flight to Miami.