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Why is Christmas music so good?

13 mins read

Welcome to day 13 of the Brig Advent Calendar 2022!

Every year we find ourselves listening to the same Christmas classics, bringing us joy and getting us into a festive mood. But why do we always listen to the same music at Christmas time? What is it in the music that keeps us coming back? What is happening within us that makes us never tire of the same holiday hits?

We will go through the top Christmas hits and the music aspect that makes them so catchy. Then, go through the top Christmas songs. This will allow us to analyse the music further and why it remains in the charts during the festive period.

After which, we will dive into the psychology of it all. Including reasons for enjoying the music and theories on individual differences and people who may be prone to enjoying it more. Within this, we will go through the ‘why’ and ‘how’ explanations for enjoying the Christmas classics.

The music in question

Throughout the years, there have been many classics that are often found on the charts during Christmas. You have probably noticed that new Christmas music rarely penetrates the charts, and if they do, its longevity is unlikely.

Below is a figure that shows the years of songs that remain in the charts.

Image Credit: Samantha McBride on Canva

The usual Christmas songs are always in the charts around Christmas. So let us discuss the top two Christmas songs in December for the past ten years using the official top charts data. And then generally speak of other Christmas songs to discover a trend.

Below are the top songs I found in the top ten Christmas songs within the top 100 official charts data. The song, artist, year of release and frequency in charts is shown below.

Image Credit: Samantha McBride

It will be the two top songs we will discuss, Fairytale of New York and All I Want for Christmas is You.

Fairy Tale of New York

For the past ten years, this song has featured in every top 40 around the festive period. But why is this Christmas song so good?

The beginning piano chords instantly make the song recognisable and has a powerful ability to have the listener reminiscing about the previous Christmas festivities they’ve spent listening to it. We can thank the piano man James Fearnley for that.

The amazing transition from the emotional piano solo alongside vocals into an upbeat mix of violin, bodhran and flute takes you right into the chorus that everyone can sing and dance along to.

The upbeat and romantic vibes of the song only make it better. The song’s portrayal is honest and can be relatable to some relationships. There is a situation and some harsh words to be said, but in the end, everything is upbeat, and it is Christmas, after all.

The song’s spirit and realness, as well as its links to Christmas and Ireland, make this a great Christmas song (the best, in my opinion).

All I Want For Christmas Is You

Next up, we have Mariah Carey’s classic Christmas tune. Like Fairytale of New York, this song has consistently been one of the top Christmas songs. But why do we always come back to it? Besides Mariah Carey being the Christmas queen herself.

Its cheerful rhythms, jingle bells and amazing vocals from Miss Carey make the song so loved by many. The simple melody makes it easily palatable for the listeners and makes the song prone to being stuck in your head. It is an earworm by design.

The repeatability of the song makes it easy to connect with the song and memorise the lyrics easily. This results in it being easy to sing along with, and who doesn’t love a wee sing-along?

The song’s intro lasts 50 seconds and begins slowly, with Mariah showing off her vocals alongside very little instrumentation. Her classic melisma on the lyrics ‘true’ and ‘you’ leads to the gradual speeding up of the melody with the addition of jingle bells and drums alongside other instruments before the upbeat verse begins.

Instrumentation is a key quality that makes the song so Christmassy. The song’s orchestration, including sleigh bells and tubular bells, induce a nostalgic ecclesiastical feel as well as clear ties with Christmas and Winter in general. The glockenspiel melody is woven throughout the song, which evokes a child-like sense of wonder and joy.

Additionally, the use of harmonies within the song and the Christmas-sounding chord make the song. If you are interested in this Christmas chord, you can watch this video explaining it.

Within the lyrics, we are presented with the key sentiment that the holidays are for the time spent with loved ones and not necessarily about the material side of getting presents and such. But about togetherness and love.

Honourable mentions

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day and Merry Christmas Everybody are both upbeat songs presenting the idea of looking back, forward and enjoying the present. The jolly music, positive lyrics and happy music videos set the tone for the festivities. Being surrounded by those you love, doing traditional activities, reflecting on happiness and making new memories

Others like Let It Snow, It Is Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas and Merry Christmas Everyone also follows this trend. Where the orchestration and instrumentation and musical components are Christmas coded, and the lyrics paint the scene of happy times with friends and family and those you love.

Why does it affect us?

Most Christmas songs have a major (happy-sounding) key that makes our brains associate it with happiness. As mentioned – the instrumentation is Christmas coded, and through years of listening to them, we have associated the music with the time of year. The upbeat rhythms and simplistic melodies allow us to easily memorise and sing along to the tunes.

The songs that are not necessarily happy in their lyrics are still happy in their music, and the realness of the lyrics allows people to relate and feel happy regardless.

We find ourselves listening to the same handful of classic Christmas songs, which has associated our happy memories with the music itself. This creates added nostalgia while listening to the song and further positive associations being made with the songs.

We all have our own traditions during the holidays. We could spend it with families, such as grandparents and parents, and as we grow up, our happy memories with the ones we love stay alive through these songs. Memories linked to the songs are a big reason for our love of them.

How does it affect us?

First, let us discuss the first psychological theory of why we love Christmas music so much. This is called the exposure effect. In social psychology, this is where the more we are exposed to something, the more likely we are to have positive attitudes towards it.

Furthermore, Christmas music is seeped in our traditions and culture. We see it in holiday time adverts, hear it on the radio and playing in shops and restaurants. There is no escaping it.

Image Credit: Samantha McBride on Canva

Biologically speaking, tonal patterns and our own life events are processed in overlapping regions of the medial prefrontal cortex within the brain. This means that as we make festive memories while these Christmas classics play, we associate the positive memories with the song. This means we love the songs just as much as the associated memory.

Image Credit: Samantha McBride on Canva

Now let us talk about individual differences in liking Christmas music. It is obvious that not everyone will like the same thing, so let us discuss qualities that may present someone with the predisposition to love festive jolly music.

First, it was found in a study by Neilsen that millennials are actually the greatest listeners of Christmas music. Especially the older music, and this is most likely because it reminds them of their childhood Christmas memories.

Image Credit: Samantha McBride on Canva. Adapted from Neilsen

Of course, not everyone enjoys Christmas music; although some people love it, others may feel indifferent or dislike it. Below shows a graph showing data on how people feel about Christmas music.

Image Credit: Samantha McBride on Canva. Adapted from LifeWay Research

If you dislike Christmas music, this could be because your association is negative, i.e., you worked during Christmas, or something bad happened that you have associated with the songs.

Final thoughts

Is it in the music, or is it in us? Or is it a bit of both? No one can say for sure. But I think it is both,

Image Credit: Samantha McBride on Canva

First, the joy within the melody, the emotion-evoking lyrics and the instrumentation. Additionally, the similarities in the lyrics and music of all the classics result in familiarity with the songs.

Also, the psychology and biology of the love for Christmas music, the nostalgia, and the memories engrained in the songs, plus the simplicity of the songs, means we can sing along.

Christmas music is not just religious. It can appeal to all and mostly centres around spending time with the ones you love and seeing everyone happy.

The sentiment is not superficial and is not about material things. It is about being with the ones you care about and being grateful for those around you and the time you have together.

The classics transcend time, they come back every year, and we never tire of them. The nostalgia and yearning within the songs are relatable. We find ourselves appealed to the glitz and the glamour.

The music defies trends. We never stray from these classics; there are many reasons this could be. The music itself is digestible and memorable and just screams Merry Christmas. We love a sing-along, and we love to reminisce and also look forward.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Lots of love,

Us at Brig.

Featured Image Credit: Ekaterina Bolovtsova on Pexels.com

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Final year Biology & Psychology student with a keen interest in music, food and lifestyle pieces.

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