Why People Hate Christmas Music

There's a saying among jazz folks that translates well into Christmas music: "It's not the tune's fault." Nothing about "Winter Wonderland" makes it any less valid than something like "Walking On Sunshine." It's all just chords and melodies and words, and don't it feel good?! But when dealing with material as standardized and worn as these Christmas numbers, a version only succeeds if the song is a jumping off point instead of a landing pad.

All this leads to the one recent exception to the rule: Sufjan Stevens, who just released his second volume of holiday music. Stevens is easily the most respectable artist who is working in this realm, and he approaches the catalog like Miles Davis approached jazz standards, respectful of the core but focused on his own creative vision. Granted, his aesthetic fits the Christmas vibe better than, say, Brian Eno (just imagine Ambient 5: Music For Sleigh Rides). Think about it: Sufjan Stevens is pleasant on the surface, complicated on the inside, and vaguely Christian. He's basically Christmas in person form.

Yes, most Christmas music is bad. But it doesn't have to be. When Shop 'N Save blares Carrie Underwood's version of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" while you shop for Egg Nog, it's going to suck. Remember that Underwood made it suck.

Perhaps the stigma of Christmas music is too thick to wade through. Perhaps "Hark!" reminds you of a sad December memory or brings up angry feelings about opportunistic capitalism, and no recording will ever sit well. If that's the case, you can blame your past, you can blame our society's commercialized view of the holidays, you can blame Carrie Underwood or Sufjan Stevens, but it's not the tune's fault.

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