Some of you just rolled your eyes. Some of you decided to skip this post on account. And some of you might even be thinking, “Emi, you aren’t even Christian. Is this another rant?” Eh… it launches from a rant, but bear with me. I’ve got a higher idea in my head, and I’m going somewhere with this. It’s going to ramble a bit. Hopefully you’ll get the idea.
Every year, I hear about this “war on Christmas” from the subsect of sheeple who get angry at those like myself because I don’t think like they do. How dare someone else follow a different set of rules? I know… it’s just terrible. I’m going to go out on a limb and say these are the ones wearing those fashionable red trucker hats now. I don’t have proof, but it feels accurate. In any case, every year, I also see the Christmas decor go up before Halloween. City workers put lights on trees in some public areas. Some stores have Christmas aisles worked up by late August. I used to get bitchy about this sort of thing until I realized it has nothing to do with Christmas and everything to do with the holiday shopping season that keeps getting rigged and tweaked in an effort to squeeze out the almighty dollar from the consumer. Every year, it gets louder, brighter, shinier, and a little more obnoxious. Or that may just be my sensory processing disorder blowing that a little out of proportion. It’s so hard to tell sometimes. All I know is that things came full circle when they started marketing the Charlie Brown Christmas tree with its single, sad decoration. I’m going to suggest the war on Christmas has nothing to do with pagans, contrary to popular belief, and everything to do with commercialization. Have you noticed that Halloween doesn’t get trampled completely by Christmas yet? It’s because it’s the #2 moneymaker, which makes me even sadder. The day after Halloween… Christmas sales have already begun on some retail sites. I wish I were making that up. You can blame Rudolph. That reindeer started as a marketing gimmick in 1939 by Montgomery Ward department stores. It’s not been the same since. And so we’re all on the same page here… by “Christmas,” I mean the general, all-inclusive version of it, including but not limited to the actual Christian version of it. Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule… all of it. People have their individual traditions, or not, but Christmas has been secularized and monetized. There’s your so-called “war.” You vote with your dollar.
With all of that comes the music. See, you did it again. I just felt you cringe from all the way over here.
I follow some independent bards and bands, and for many of them, the holiday marketing season has already begun, and that means promoting their Christmas albums now. It’s a vicious cycle that gets them boo’d by their otherwise loyal audience, and yet… how else can it go down? Hate the game, not the player, right? I truly do not like that saying. It ranks right up there with “it is what it is.” It’s BS. But it also doesn’t change the fact that this is what they think they have to do because this is what the modern market demands of them. And do you know what that means? It’s means that people with money in their hands — consumers — told them this is how to do it. A Christmas album is one of those supposedly evergreen commodities. Pick your favorite artist. Maybe some of their older albums will be forgotten for a while when the new ones come out. All the Christmas albums come out when the holidays roll around. Or do they? These days, I hear Spotify is all the rage, or whatever your streaming service of choice happens to be, so album sales are down. It means these musicians are struggling. They’re selling songbooks, t-shirts, mugs, and other doo-dads that people don’t need because their music doesn’t sell. It… troubles me. But then, I’m a traditionalist on this front. I like my private music collection. Digital MP3s are just fine for everyday listening, but I rather enjoy my CDs and LPs. I’m also more of an album person as opposed to buying singles. And I tell these artists the same thing, because many of them tell me they want to hear from their listening audience. The feedback I get from them is that I’m a dying breed clinging to a dying business model, but they’re grateful for people like me. If I could play Medici, I’d personally sponsor as many of them as I could. I think that’d be all kinds of fun. But, sadly, I’m not on that level. Not by any stretch of imagination. My music habits are a lot like my book habits. If I have enough money for food, I split that money between food, music, and books. I may eat terribly, but my soul is sated.
I also tell these artists the same thing I tell everyone else: I am not going to listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving. Just… no. [Side note: for those outside the US, that’s our late November holiday marking where white people illegally immigrated to this land in leaky boats in search of religious zealotry because they wanted to kill too many “heretics” back home, were saved from the brink of starvation by the local red natives, and which we celebrate by revising the history to underplay the native contribution, eating to excess, watching American football, and hitting early store sales to avoid the Black Friday shopping rush wherein we trample each other in a bid to save a few dollars while we overspend beyond our means. Makes perfect sense, right?] I’ll buy the music and have it on hand, but I like to keep the flow of the seasonal cycle to avoid burnout. But you know how it is, where everyone’s a bit hypocritical of something? I can listen to “Halloween” music pretty much year round… and I tend not to play much of it at Halloween because Samhain is a very different thing for me. So, there’s my hypocrisy showing. A creature of contradiction, that’s me. Here’s another one: I’m not Christian, but I love Christmas music. Not that modern, over-processed garbage from the pop tarts of the week, mind you. I love Christmas jazz. I love Christmas classical. My personal collection includes Medieval and Renaissance compositions. Actually, I have as much of that as I do 19th or 20th century holiday fare. I have more holiday music than I can actually play during the holiday season. I could start right now and not finish it all before the season ends. And that’s ok. I just put it all on shuffle with the rest of the music, and whenever I feel the need to listen to a specific album to set a mood, I’ll dig it out.
People, I think, have been doing this wrong in general. The “spirit” of the season hits, and marketing uses all the hammers. Music is one of them. It makes people hate the tunes, not for the tunes themselves, but for the emotions they generate when twisted to those maligned ends. It’s a gimmick that backfires, much like everything else that marketing does during this season. I’d say less is more, but we consumers have trained them to know otherwise. Money doesn’t lie. The pursuit of large amounts of money makes people lie, but money itself is pretty neutral. More than that, it’s kind of its own truth serum. People may lie to get it, but they show everyone the truth of who they are when they do.
The point here is that if we the consumer have been dictating how the season goes, why can’t we dictate the market differently? Because here’s the thing. If you can’t afford to buy me a gift any other time of year, why would I expect you do do that during the holidays when you’re expected to buy one for everyone else you know just as the weather turns colder, energy bills spike, and maintenance for home or vehicle tend to happen? It makes no sense. So I try to make the same deal of everyone else: don’t get me anything this year, and expect the same. If you feel the need to do anything for me, drop me an email and let me know you’re thinking of me. Pick up a phone and say hello. Or maybe coordinate your schedule, and we’ll do breakfast or something. Hang out for the afternoon. Whatever. Your time and your heart are more valuable to me than anything you can buy in a store. I hope you’ll feel the same.
I’ve become something of a Zen master when it comes to avoiding 95% of all marketing. That means I’m free to enjoy the holidays as they come and the associated music on my own terms. I don’t watch commercial television. I don’t listen to commercial radio. I use popup blockers and ad blockers on my internet browser. I skip through ads in podcasts. If an ad does find its way to me, I kill it on principle. So when you see those stereotypical ads of someone sitting on a comfy couch with a mug of their favorite hot beverage, avoiding a TV, enjoying the company of a loved one or a book, and playing a soft, nostalgic tune… that, people, is what the holiday season is all about. I don’t need marketing to tell me what I’m missing, and buying their stuff won’t help me get that feeling. I do it myself. This is part of why the “dark months” treat me so well. I’m an introspective homebody who enjoys peace and quiet. Every year, they say that’s what the holidays are for, all evidence to the contrary on this crowded little world. Imagine if people actually worked towards the idea of peace. Imagine if people actually lived with intention of what they truly wanted instead of what marketing told them they think they need to hear. That, my friends, is how you change the world… and the perception of Christmas music.