Three FM radio stations – 106.5, 100.3, and 97.5 – have been playing Christmas music in the Salt Lake City market since the day after Halloween. Both major Salt Lake newspapers have been filled with letters to the editor screeching “It’s too soon! It’s too soon!” To those secular Scrooges, I say “bah, humbug.”
Or, in a more 21st Century vernacular, “Up yours.”
Granted, Halloween is too soon for seasonal Wal-Mart ads, but it’s never too soon to hear Christmas carols. When I was an actor in the Playmill Theatre in 1993, we had Christmas in Yellowstone on the 25th of August, in commemoration of a year when the Old Faithful Inn was snowed in right there at the end of the summer. We drank hot cider, exchanged gifts, and sang “Silent Night.” When I ran my own theatre in Jackson Hole, we did the same thing every year. It was good stuff. And it was the music that made all the difference.
Christmas music never gets old.
Of the three radio stations who play Christmas music, I try to avoid 106.5, because even though I have yet to hear them spin a single Kwanzaa tune, they insist on using the phrase “Have a happy holiday” as an insipid jingle. Not even the despised “Happy Holidays,” which could, theoretically, include New Year’s. Nope. Just “Have a happy holiday.”
Which holiday, guys? Festivus? Would it friggin’ KILL you to say the word “Christmas?”
100.3 says Happy Holidays, too, but, to their credit, they always refer to themselves as “your Christmas music station.” The genericism of Happy Holidays gets offset by using the word Christmas in close proximity. Somewhat.
97.5 is the only station that uses the words “Merry Christmas” in all of their promotions, which is why I press their button on my radio first. I think more and more businesses have noticed that there are financial consequences attached to treating the word “Christmas” like a sign of leprosy. In Target the other day, the “Happy Holidays” banner was right next to the “Merry Christmas” banner. In previous years, “Happy Holidays” stood alone.
I think the backlash against the anti-Christmas PC Nazis is finally starting to kick in, and that’s a good thing.
Christmas is all about tradition, and those traditions are reinforced by timeless music. That’s why very new Christmas songs survive from year to year, although “Mary, Did You Know?” and “Breath of Heaven” seem to be hanging in there. They’re not “Silent Night” or “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” though. (Every time I hear “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” I think of a beautiful, Dickensian English village coated in lightly falling snow,with a lamplight burning on the end of a deserted street. This image is not geographically, meteorologically or theologically sound, but it’s dang Christmasy.)
Singers would do well to remember that when they sing Christmas tunes, the song is the star, not them. Hearing Celine Dione butcher “O Holy Night” with self-important bombast makes me want to drop a bowling ball on my head. Donny Osmond’s “poppy” Christmas album is equally wretched – no one really wants to Donny do a techno version of “Angels We Have Heard On High,” do they? I think that’s why Harry Connick, Jr.’s first Christmas album is so beloved – he sings it straight, and it’s filled with traditional arrangements that would have been right at home alongside Nat King Cole, AKA the Honorary Voice of Christmas. (Connick’s second album, where he pushes the jazz elements too far, is forgettable at best and, more often than not, just plain unlistenable.)
It’s hard to make any hard and fast rules about good Christmas music, though. Mannheim Steamroller is always great precisely because they break with tradition. They play with different tempos, styles, and arrangements, but you always know they respect the songs, so you’re willing to go along for the ride. Whereas the Mormon Tabernacle Choir approaches every song with such a sterile reverence that listening to them becomes really dull really fast.
Everyone has their own favorites, I suppose. For me, I’ll always have a soft spot for Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town,” because, even though it’s probably crap, it makes me feel 16 again. Also, I hate “My Grown-Up Christmas Wish,” because it sounds like it was written by the Democratic National Committee. Yet I love John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” for reasons I can’t explain. I mean, it’s a political carol co-sung by Yoko, so I should loathe it, but I don’t. Whereas Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmas Time” sounds like a tire commercial.
And what’s up with Wham!’s “Last Christmas?” Why do stations keep playing it?
“Last Christmas, I gave you my heart
But the very next day, you gave it away.”
To who? The Salvation Army? Goodwill? Deseret Industries? What is this crap?
The best modern Christmas song, hands down, is Spinal Tap’s “Christmas with the Devil.”
The elves are dressed in leather and the angels are in chains (Christmas with the Devil)
The sugar plums are rancid and the stockings are in flames (Christmas with the Devil)
There’s a demon in my belly and a gremlin in my brain
There’s someone up the chimney hole and Satan is his name
106.5 hasn’t played this once. And don’t tell me it’s because it’s offensive. After all, they play Wham!’s “Last Christmas” every fifteen minutes.