Black Friday fires it off like a referee with a starter pistol and I’m not talking about overzealous Elf-on-the-Shelfers or deal grabbers. No, this annual occurrence spreads farther, festoons more households of America, maybe carries overseas, too. An acquired disability like a visual impairment doesn’t stop it either, in fact it spotlighted it for me.
Living with a visual impairment doesn’t technically improve my hearing. Stockton, my husband, swears I developed hypersensitive hearing–or at least that marital ailment, selective hearing–but it’s the product of my sensory system focusing more on sound than sight. I listen hard these days in Mayberry and what seasonal event did I examine? The relentless marathons of Christmas music.
Now I know all of you–whether you’re celebrating the holiday or not–hear carols. You can’t escape them in the US in the last calendar month. Songs play in retail shops and decorated restaurants. Vehicles–maybe even yours–adorned in wreaths, reindeer antlers and red noses pump out music like seasonal exhaust every December. Let’s be honest. The music isn’t playing in the background as you step past the automatic sliding doors at the grocery store. As you walk around, it insidiously assaults your ears and tricks your mind into adhering to the annual practice. It’s tradition.
And in this auditory tradition, I uncovered shocking stuff hidden carefully like a pickle ornament on a trimmed tree within our ubiquitous merry jingles. Quit caroling for a minite and get ready for a scandal. The frivolity casts a shadow.
Skip the liturgical verses, the vocab can get a little dated. Read the lyrics of a few secular carols instead. You’ll notice it too, fellow sheeple. If the words aren’t straight up depressing (Blue Christmas, Last Christmas, I’ll Be Home for Christmas) the message is a little off the jolly sleighway:
- Santa Claus is Coming to Town (stalking)
- Frosty the Snowman (hallucinations)
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (bullying)
- I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (adultery)
- The Christmas Song (absentee father)
- Little Drummer Boy (oppressed children under monarchy)
- Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer (murder)
I could go on and on like a 24/7 holiday radio stations cranking out the hits. I once was blind to the misfit jingles, but now I see. Where’s the national protest for better seasonal music? Our tendency to tolerate things for tradition’s sake, to believe what’s familiar will comfort appalls me.
Maybe we’re too busy cutting down Douglas firs to pay attention. The spiked eggnog and banquet food comas we experience this time of year subdues the urge to rage out, too. Sugar and alcohol offered at holiday parties competes aggressively at our senses like bouncers and religious pamphlet pushers near entrances to strip clubs. Ho ho ho.
Face it, Christmas music is weird. Why play these particular songs? Well, they’re catchy tunes. I fell under the spell of the seemingly wholesome, jubilant messages. And, for the depressing songs, nothing fits the mood better when you’re in the middle of a retail shift stocking shelves. The masses disorganize or simply clear out displays in a haze of consumption. Shoppers forget common courtesy in the aisles and can’t get off their phones for 30 seconds to complete their transactions with a touch of humanity at the cash wrap. A little Blue Christmas and a sarcastic smirk underneath a customer service smile passes the hours nicely.
I admit not all of the holiday music freaks me out. I dig instrumentals. When I’m listening to carols that edge toward soaring hymns, as long as a choir performs–Mormon Tabernaclers? That’s what I’m talking about–it sounds beautiful. Most importantly to my sharp ears, the words are easily obscured by enjoying the harmonies and sheer vocal power.
Maybe this salve is genetic. My sister and I treasure Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass’s Christmas CD. Can’t say no to the quirky beats. On the more conservative side, my dad listens to holiday music as he completes his weekly Meals on Wheels routes. His favorites? Mannheim Steamroller, which are, you guessed it, albums filled with a lot of instrumental tracks plus numbers with choir-ready vocals. My dad is outfoxing the hipsters half his age on progressive holiday music selections and he doesn’t even know it.
Finally I confess, there’s a big exception in my lyric-filled song avoidance. Not that I’m a huge fan of ballads by the talented vocalists who belt them out, but Mariah Carey, props to you. You’re appearing troubled in the tabs lately, but at least your original Christmas single–which even I’ll listen to as it reminds me of elementary school holiday parties and Love Actually–is merry, genuine sap without archaic language, implied violence or hints of pedophilia. Additionally, no other modern pop songs broke into and stayed part of the seasonal rotation like hers which by the way turns twenty this year. Twenty. Go ahead, try to name an original song with the mass appeal of All I Want for Christmas. The Christmas music canon is sealed in a bit of a sentimental time capsule our ears open regularly as the year comes to a close. Sigh.
Well, secular Christmas is basically for kids and the nostalgia of childhood joy. I don’t want to Scrooge it up. I’d rather Griswold it up. In future years of marathon Christmas music, I’d settle on less Dickensian music for more contemporary language in religious lyrics and more cleverness in pop tunes. My eyes don’t care, but my ears are ready to receive like a kid in front of a stack of presents under the tree.