For those unfortunate souls in the United States trying to make their way about the business of living and shopping this time of year, there is no safe refuge from the constant bombardment of the dreaded onslaught of Christmas music. Malls, grocery stores, coffee houses and even the local gas stations and convenience stores have gotten the Christmas spirit by cranking up the volume and raining down a holy host of holiday-inspired, solemn hymns and chirpy ditties onto their patrons. This year’s burgeoning bag of rehashed old favorites and sparkly new offerings were playing a full week before Thanksgiving, making me want to reach out and smack the person closest to me which just happened to be my husband. For some I imagine the icky, screechy strains of “Santa Baby” are a welcome harbinger of the festive holiday season. However, I worked in a large department store attached to a mall years ago so I have a profound loathing of the syrupy audio goo that oozes out, following me wherever I go and permeates all my Christmas shopping.
Defenders of this holiday-mandated jinglethon cite the warm, fuzzy feelings of nostalgia that envelope them, resisting the argument that the endless loops of “Jingle Bell Rock” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” is nothing more than a not-so-subtle attempt at marketing. I imagine that somewhere deep in a dusty filing cabinet of some long since fired marketing manager is a memo detailing some dubious research correlating the playing of Christmas music at full blast and increased sales. I guess there might be a connection for some listening to “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and remembering to buy Uncle Doofus a battery-powered nose hair trimmer in the shape of a tiny chainsaw. All this despite a recent German study stating the playing of seasonal ditties had little to no effect in sales.
The constant torturous assault of this cutesy Christmasy clutter doesn’t inspire goodwill toward men and in fact has, on occasion, caused me to beat a hasty retreat. Saying that might just include me in the Scrooge category but I won’t be alone and here’s some proof:
- A labor group for Austrian shop workers has proclaimed Christmas music a ‘psychological terror’ and has suggested shops only play the Christmas music for a few hours a day to reduce aggressiveness in their employees.
- A British union representing shop workers has proposed an ‘alternative Christmas carol collection’ as a means to alleviate violence perpetrated against retail staff. Yes, I said against retail staff.
- I might be stretching the point here a little but the World Health Organization came out with a study citing that heart disease and hypertension might be exacerbated by the prolonged exposure to chronic noise and may be a contributing factor in mental disease.
- The Royal National Institute for Deaf People in Britain authorized a study which found that background music and muzak can cause ‘pain, discomfort and unnecessary distress’ for deaf or hard of hearing citizens. The point being that store personnel may have a harder time understanding a hard of hearing person with imperfect speech. Hearing aid devices amplify all sounds, add to that a blaring version of “Winter Wonderland” and you’ve got an annoyed, confused hard of hearing person.
- Also from the Royal Institute for Deaf People study. One in ten 35-44 year-olds hated Christmas music and one in ten 55-64 year-olds hated Christmas music.
So the question that begs to be asked is where is all this Christmas music coming from? A short search found that everyone and their uncle has done a Christmas album or track for a holiday CD. Everyone from The Pointer Sisters, John Mellencamp, Randy Travis, Cassandra Wilson, Chick Corea, Cesaria Evora, Papa Wemba, BB King and Earl Scruggs have done their holiday duty by offering up a carol or twenty. There’s Celtic Christmases, Norwegian Christmases, Acoustic Celtic-Norwegian Christmases and wacky send-up CDs with the likes of “Santa Brought Me Clothes” and “I Got a Cheese Log.”
I guess it comes down to a singer or musician sitting down with a producer one day only to be told, ‘Look here, you need to do a Christmas CD. It’s in your contract!’ The utter avalanche of Christmas CDs premiered each year makes me wonder if it’s actually included in their contracts; something along the lines of ‘all artists shall comply with the one sappy Christmas CD rule with the penalty of ignoring such rule being a forced appearance in green pointy hat and slippers with jingle bells while singing three verses of “Santa’s Coming to Town” at the Thanksgiving Day Parade.’
The other question that begs to be asked is – When will it all end? With new singers and musicians emerging every year will the Christmas CD go on and on in perpetuity or will the next marketing/holiday songbook include the Easter serenade, the Flag Day jingle or perhaps the Ides of March dirge or maybe the Groundhog Day ditty?
Just remember, while you stand in line, finally making it to the register to encounter that surly salesgirl with frazzled hair and a Christmas wreath pin announcing “My Name Is Carolee” that this poor girl in the six weeks of Christmas shopping has heard “Jingle Bells” approximately 320 times. Be kind.
Author: TJ Nelson
TJ Nelson is a regular CD reviewer and editor at World Music Central. She is also a fiction writer. Check out her latest book, Chasing Athena’s Shadow.
Set in Pineboro, North Carolina, Chasing Athena’s Shadow follows the adventures of Grace, an adult literacy teacher, as she seeks to solve a long forgotten family mystery. Her charmingly dysfunctional family is of little help in her quest. Along with her best friends, an attractive Mexican teacher and an amiable gay chef, Grace must find the one fading memory that holds the key to why Grace’s great-grandmother, Athena, shot her husband on the courthouse steps in 1931.
Traversing the line between the Old South and New South, Grace will have to dig into the past to uncover Athena’s true crime.