We’re not walking in a winter wonderland just yet, but Christmas music has begun to play on the radio, at coffee shops, and in shopping malls. From “Jingle Bells” to “Deck the Halls”, the carols and seasonal songs remind us that Christmas is coming in less than a month.
For some, the traditional holiday music brings the fear of Christmas bills and crammed shopping centres. For others, the tunes trigger the happiest childhood memories of hanging your first ornament on the tree, or when you snuck behind the gifts early Christmas morning to find your name on the biggest present.
In a 2007 report from the journal Memory, researchers played popular songs for a group of volunteers to see if the music generated memories. They discovered that those who were familiar with the songs were more inclined to associate the music with vivid memories.
To replicate these results, I walked around UTM and asked students to listen to popular Christmas songs, such as “Jingle Bells”, “A White Christmas”, and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. A few times, students began to smile and sing along to the traditional lyrics. After the exercise I asked each to tell me their thoughts.
Claire Wildman, a major in English and woman and gender studies, listened to “Jingle Bells” and recalled calm memories of her childhood. “When I listen to Christmas music I remember walking home from school with friends and singing carols. We would even stop and toboggan down the neighbourhood hill,” she mused.
Even students who had not spent Christmas in Canada enjoyed reminiscing about holidays in their home countries.
Kristina Skorbach, a professional writing student, confessed that she listens to Christmas music in July to boost her spirits.
“Christmas music makes me think about when I was in Ukraine and how I used to watch Home Alone during the holidays,” she said.
Radio stations such as 98.1 CHFI started to play Christmas music in early November. Many people, including many UTM students, consider this premature, just like people who put up their lights the day after Halloween. The fear is that the early start of the “happy Christmas feeling” will wear itself out too soon and end up an annoyance. Meanwhile, shopping centres use the music to get shoppers in the mood for a long month of commercialized Christmas as early as possible. The day after Halloween, the Zellers at Erin Mills Town Centre had already been decorated with Christmas trees, flickering lights, and tinsel.
Students who work in retail complain the most about the early start and overplaying of holiday music.
“You just keep hearing the same tracks over and over while on your shift. It gets so annoying,” complained Gary Li, a CCIT student.
When Patrick Illian, a professional writing and communication student, listened to a few Christmas carols, he recalled an irritating high school memory.
“During the holiday season, my school would overplay the Alvin and the Chipmunks song ‘Christmas Time is Here’ to raise money for a fundraiser. We got so sick of it—until a group of students snuck in to the office and broke the CD,” he remembered.
When listening to Christmas music on the radio, we sometimes come across new music by modern artists, such as Justin Bieber’s “Mistletoe”. When asked about it, a few people on campus said they detested the tune and asked to listen to Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” instead. This dislike might relate to the findings of the 2007 report: new songs just don’t have the same feel, because we don’t associate them with holiday memories. This lack of connection could also explain why musical artists who choose to release a Christmas album almost always go for new renditions of the same classical holiday carols.
Like it or not, Christmas carols will continue to follow us through the season to bring joy, peace, and irritation. We’ll just have to make of it what we will. Remember, it’s supposed to be “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”!
Happy holidays, UTM!
(P.S. Yes, I wrote this article with Christmas music playing in the background.)