The generational evolution of the Christmas song

After months of waiting, Christmas time is finally here again. We all know what that means. We can finally dive back into the glue that holds together every successful Christmas celebration – its festive songs. What I find most interesting about Christmas songs however isn’t just how we all can’t help but hum our favourites as November comes around and quickly becomes December, but that each generation of yuletide tune has a unique sound. At an innate, almost animalistic level we all know exactly what is meant here. From Brenda Lee to Mariah Carey, we can explain a lot about a generation from its most popular festive tunes.

We need to start at the beginning to really understand where Christmas songs came from and how they have changed. For me, the quintessential classic Christmas track is ‘The Christmas Song’ or, as it is better known ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire’. Released in 1946, it is pure, it is sweet, and if it doesn’t paint a picture of winter bliss in your mind as soon as it sounds, I don’t know how what will.

Like other Christmas songs of its generation – ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’, ‘White Christmas’ and ‘Winter Wonderland’, I’m looking at you all – it’s the kind of song your grandma would put on. You can just imagine the snowstorm of white-headed grandparents bopping along to these wholesome tunes, glass of sherry in hand and remembering how they used to dance to them down at the village hall during the wintertime of their youth. They are classics, the ones playing in the background during the quiet moments of this period, when you’re too stuffed to move or when you’re too sleepy to dance.

The [songs of your parents’ generation are] not quite as wholesome as the songs of your grandparents’ generation, but they still invoke the wild side of Christmas we all deeply enjoy

But what do you put on to really build the hype, when you’re rosy-cheeked with only the jolliest of alcoholic beverages? This, of course, is when the heyday of the festive banger must be revisited: the 70s and 80s. Here I’m talking about the tunes you can’t help but sing along to, like Slade’s ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’, Wizzard’s ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday, ‘Merry
Christmas Everyone’ by Shakin’ Stevens…the list goes on.

These are of course the songs of your parents’ generation. They listened to these tunes as they waited excitedly for the presents Santa Claus was bringing them. They also probably enjoyed these as they got a little too merry during the run-up, exactly the kind of thing that they warn you of now. These are the tunes you love to belt out; the songs you both sway and rock out to. They’re not quite as wholesome as the songs of your grandparents’ generation, but they still invoke the wild side of Christmas we all deeply enjoy.

It’s a given that the poster child for this particular age in Christmas music is Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’

Now we come to the third, and final, generation of Christmassy tunes: the modern era. It’s a given that the poster child for this particular age in Christmas music is Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’. Released in 1994 and shooting to become
one of the best-selling singles of all time, it perfectly encapsulates the Christmas of our youth – the Christmas we all know. This is the Christmas period with school assembly singalongs and school talent shows, which without fail would entertain a rendition of ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ (matching Mean Girls dance and all).

Though there have definitely been many Christmas song duds in recent years, we also get a lot of new renditions of classic Christmas tunes being re-released under new artists to add different spins. Michael Bublé has built his whole career around this particular pursuit. These are the songs that, in my opinion, fill the gaps between the other generations. They are versatile. You can listen to them in anticipation, during your sleepy moments, and when you want to have some fun. Bublé is brilliant for shopping too, as you may well know if you’ve ever been to a Marks and Spencer during the winter months.

The best thing about how Christmas songs have evolved is that they are still all enjoyable to listen to today, regardless of when they were made. It is all still relevant music to somebody, and they have a way of uniquely tying generations together at the
most family-centric time of year.

 

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