by Chris Harris
Christmas music in November. Okay. What happened to you just now? The effect those words have on people is incredible, palpable. Some of you may have just cringed, a jolting shiver rushing through your body as you wince in psychological pain. Some of you might have broken out in an uncontrollable grin, as if you were one of Pavlov’s dogs and someone just rang a holly-jolly bell.
There is pretty much no middle ground here — you are firmly on one side or the other. Come this time of year, few things split people apart from each other more than the wedge that is Christmas music. Sports rivalries? Presidential elections? Bah. They tremor before the clash over Christmas.
I am one of those people who welcomes Christmas with open arms. One regional radio station starts playing holiday music as soon as November 1 hits; I was flipping around the dial a couple of weeks ago only find the dulcet tones of Burl Ives wafting through my car’s speakers, and I became instantly giddy. (Just ask my Facebook friends, who were immediately treated to the post, “CHRISTMAS MUSIC ON THE RADIO! CHRISTMAS MUSIC ON THE RADIO! I LOVE CHRISTMAS SONGS! I'M VERY EXCITED ABOUT THIS! CAN YOU TELL??!!”)
The thing is, I just love Christmas. Always have. There is something about the time of year — specifically all the trappings that go with it — that makes me a happier person. The sight of a tree and tinsel, the sounds of halls being decked and Santas coming to town provokes within me a visceral reaction. The cockles of my heart are warmed as if at the foot of a roaring hearth.
Don’t ask me why. Perhaps it’s just the warm and fuzzy memories of childhood, when the arrival of Christmas meant thumbing through the Sears catalogue and pointing out all the toys that you wanted that year — and then you got them. Nothing is quite so magical as the acquisition of bright and shiny new stuff, not to a child. Maybe it’s the wealth of material available — few other holidays even have their own songs, let alone ones so catchy, so well-composed, featuring a variety of subjects ranging from fat, jolly elves to divine babes in mangers to stink-stank-stunk-y Grinches.
Or maybe I’m just crazy. That’s what the OTHER side believes.
And by the “other” side, I mean those for whom the arrival of Christmas — seemingly earlier and earlier each year — is a bad thing. A woeful thing. A soul-crushing sign of crass commercialism run amok and artificial cheerfulness being spread like so much manure. A frightening reminder of impending credit card bills weighed down by Christmas spending and the Byzantine puzzle that is planning family get-togethers.
Not being one of these people myself, I can only guess as to what their reasoning is, based on what they’ve told me (frequently with numerous festive expletives included). For some folks, it just isn’t what they’re used to, having grown up with the first signs of Christmas popping up after Thanksgiving at the absolute earliest, and often not until December.
Yet here we are in 2013, and department stores start clearing their shelves to make way for yuletide goods in September! Yep, once summer’s over and it’s time to put away the pool noodles and an army of electric grills that look like Daleks, here come the fake trees and red bows and ornaments ranging from snowflakes to Spidermen. It’s understandably hard to feel very Christmas-y when you’re still wearing shorts outside — maybe not in a place like Florida or Southern California, but when you’re used to the possibility of a “white” Christmas? The only things “white” about September are the shoes you can’t wear after Labor Day.
People who work in retail also reportedly have it rough, or so I’ve been told. Governments around the world have been known to use loud or irritating music as an interrogation tactic, blasting it constantly around the clock to produce a form of psychological torture. Apparently, when you’re standing behind a cash register and the speaker over head is vomiting a constant stream of holiday tunes, it can have a similar effect.
Personally, I think that sounds like a great environment to work in. I’d love to turn on Christmas music here in the newsroom if it wouldn’t overpower the police scanner. But, in fairness, being bombarded by carols and crooners preaching peace and goodwill toward all while you’re dealing with rude customers who insist on treating you like an idiot just for explaining that you don’t have their sought-after item in stock is as good a reason as any to become soured on the whole Christmas experience.
It’s true, the holiday season does have a way of putting stress on people that can turn them rather ... well, nasty. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, King Herod, and that ol’ seasick crocodile all rolled into one. Which is a shame, because Christmas is a gift. It’s something here for the sole purpose of enjoying. So many people feel like they need things to be so perfect — for everyone to have a good time, to look like a picture-perfect family on a Christmas card, to check off everyone on the gift list and then fret about gift reciprocation as a kind of draconian social contract — that it ends up producing the opposite effect.
I always say, if you can’t just enjoy Christmas for what it is, don’t do it. It’s your choice. No one’s forcing you to celebrate all the customs. Just bow out and don’t bother. Recognize Jesus’ birth if you wish, but scrap the festivities — unless, of course, you can receive them in the spirit in which they’re intended and have a good time in spite of yourself. Nobody’s perfect — why try to be so at this one time of year more than any other? If you can’t enjoy the spectacle that is the Christmas machine, then there’s no point to it, really.
But I know that’s easier said than done, especially when you have kids clamoring for a new Xbox to show up under the tree, and “The Carol of the Bells” taunting you in every store you enter.
So let me propose a truce. Dear holiday haters, let us have our festive music on the radio, our decorations in the stores, our annoying cheeriness whenever the “C” word is mentioned.
In turn, we will do our best to actually live up to the standards of behavior we’re championing here. Instead of merely giving lip service to the whole “Christmas spirit” thing and being nice rather than naughty and all that jazz, we’ll live it. We’ll make it a mantra, and use this special time of year as a reminder that this is how we should treat the people around us — and should do so all the year round, in fact. We’ll stop harassing you poor retail employees when we can’t get things just the way we want them, we’ll waive any expectations of getting a gift or card in return for what we’ve given you, and we will not, under any circumstances, expect you to be 100-percent perfect. We’ll just want for you to feel loved.
And oh yeah, we won’t wish you “Merry Christmas” (or “Happy Holidays,” “Feliz Navidad,” “Happy Hanukkah” or whatever) until December. How about that?
What do you say, fellow Christmas lovers? Are you up for it? Can we practice what is preached in the music of our people?
Because otherwise, all of our music, all our glad tidings are just noisy silver bells, clanging away, signifying nothing.