With the punchy synth chords of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ echoing distantly in the past, the era of faux-spookiness has been dead and buried for over a month now. Yet, in its place comes a soundtrack eschewing the quirky playfulness of Halloween playlists for something that is actually, decidedly terrifying.
While Christmas music may come in many shapes and sizes, and the vessels from which it is summoned are numerous in their forms – Bieber, Bublé, Boney M., the list is painfully exhaustive – there is something eerily bleak about the underlying message of the music itself. Of course, the subject matter lends itself to only a handful of lyrical clichés, and so as expected the references to sleigh rides, mistletoe, stockings and so forth coagulate on the surface level like the mounds of whipped cream atop a gingerbread latte.
Clearly it is not just by means of formality that nearly every shop blares out the stuff for weeks on end, milking it for all its worth
But the phrases themselves become so predictable, burned into the listener’s mind, that a disconnect starts to occur, and we are entered into a hyper-idealised reverie of formless slogans dripping into our subconscious like melting snow; images of a suburban fantasy land that pointedly prod at our banal lives. Clearly it is not just by means of formality that nearly every shop blares out the stuff for weeks on end, milking it for all its worth: it surpasses the suggestion of happiness, fun and spontaneity that upbeat shop playlists usually try to foster, and makes it mandatory.
This reveals the sinister side to Christmas music. Surely, I can’t be the only one that hears Slade exclaiming “so here it is, merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun!” and hearing it as a kind of concealed threat, like the Joker disturbingly screaming platitudes to a bank full of hostages? Yet, whilst the forced fun of the shared, yet utterly fabricated, narrative of Christmas music is humorous to think upon, there can be more serious implications for mental health.
As Scott Dehorty, a Maryland social worker tells Healthline, “the songs actually trigger a countdown clock in our minds and can cause stress and anxiety”, noting that they conjure the “negative feelings” of “how many people we need to shop for, party planning, traveling, seeing relatives we may not want to see” and so forth.
The music itself becomes a mode of living, seeping into every fibre of our being, as we are left with the terrifying thought of a dystopian nightmare: Christmas every day
With the scenes of stress and deadlines – i.e. that which is constitutive of the real side of the holiday season – piercing through the fantasy, it is likely that the supposed balm of festive music only amplifies feelings of inadequacy. It is, as Dehorty says, a countdown clock, but it somehow manages also to be a zone of frozen temporality. The sleigh bells, cheesy brass sounds and bright piano chords blur into one, and the music itself becomes a mode of living, seeping into every fibre of our being, as we are left with the terrifying thought of a dystopian nightmare: Christmas every day.
Of course, at the end of it all, Christmas rolls around and, when all is said and done, it’s just the same as it was every other year, and life goes on. So next time you hear a Christmas song and all its lavish imaginings, and you think to yourself “so this is Christmas?”, just remember that that line comes from a song subtitled “war is over”. Unfortunately the latter isn’t true, so it’s unlikely the former is either.