Being unemployed gives me lots of free time to do magical things, like taking my time when determining whether or not seasonal Coffeemate is worth the extra few dollars and reading through some of the articles I wrote for the newspaper I used to be editor of. I recently came across one of my favorites, titled “Christmas Music That’s Not About Christmas.” I wrote it when I worked at Gap and was surrounded by Christmas music for five hours straight, three days a week.
I grew to despise the constant holiday music, but felt conflicted because of how much I truly love the season. I crave the cold weather and rainy days that allow me to wear my rain boots; I enjoy the chill I get when I start my car in the morning and have to wait for the heater to warm up; and I love being able to wear super-soft socks to bed without kicking them off in the middle of the night. Simply put, I love the coziness that ensues as a result of the cold weather. It reminds of the simpler days, when I was a 7-year-old girl who, along with her younger sister, created a winter wonderland for her dollhouse people. Our bedroom was filled with the sounds of Martina McBride’s Christmas album, and our carpet was covered in fake snow and a mirror that had been transformed into an ice-skating rink.
It was a magical time for all involved (especially the teenage dollhouse person who was able to kiss her boyfriend under the mistletoe). Memories like these used to invoke a deep love of Christmas songs, but working in retail completely ruined it for me. So I came up with a playlist of some of my favorite songs that have a cold-weather, holiday-esque vibe to them so I could continue to have a musical connection to the season without being reminded of the destroyed sweater display I had to refold earlier in the day. The playlist is categorized by band, below.
Fleet Foxes: Suitable for cabin trips and long drives through snowy mountains.
‘White Winter Hymnal’
This song is about children in scarves walking through the snow. It has the same kind of structure that many of the more traditional Christmas songs have, but with a much more intellectual and symbolic story to tell. It’s fun to sing along to, and it makes road trips seem much shorter and more adventurous.
This song is a simple addition to a “sit by the fire and read a Steinbeck novel” playlist, as it is leisurely and has lyrics about Oliver James, who is lost in the rain (typical weather for the holiday season).
This song is absolutely beautiful. The melodies are pleasant, relaxing and perfectly suited to waking up in the arms of your significant other as you look forward to a delicious mug of pumpkin spice coffee (note: seasonal Coffeemate is definitely worth the extra few bucks).
‘Blue Ridge Mountains’
This song is perfect for the holiday season as it begins with a message to the lyricist’s brother about how he missed his connecting flight to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee. Such a situation is common during travels from state to state, and many listeners can sympathize. They can then sing along to the beautiful remainder of the song as they wait sadly and anxiously for their family member to arrive safely at the airport.
Beware of ‘Icicle Tusk’
This tune has a wintery title but is in no way comforting or Christmassy. It’s about murdering the father of a coal miner’s daughter. Don’t put this on any holiday playlist.
The National: Suitable for intellectual holiday gatherings at which you discuss the true meaning of Christmas, the psychology behind telling children that Santa exists and the religious overtones of the holiday season.
Though the lyrics of this song are a bit invasive, the speed of it is perfect for the idling conversations one has as the night grows late and the spiked apple cider settles into a satisfied stomach. The deepness of the lead singer’s voice greatly influences the quality of conversation because it makes people feel wiser.
With the lyrics, “Hang your holiday rainbow lights in the garden,” ‘Gospel’ is one of the only songs on this list that actually mention the holidays. It’s mellow and uses the piano as its primary form of instrumentation. Most intellectuals can play the piano, so this is a perfect way to show your friends that you appreciate the instrument as well.
Belle & Sebastian: Suitable for catching up with high school friends when back in your hometown for Christmas break.
‘The Fox In The Snow’
This is yet another great morning song. When waking up to the first snow of the season, one is often overwhelmed by how pure everything appears to be. To take such feelings even further, analyze the lyrics of this song while you wait for the heater to warm up your cinnamon-scented living room.
The lyrics of this song are also about snowy weather, as well as the things one ponders when they see a pretty girl. It’s sweet and lightly romantic, which is perfect because no one wants anything heavy on his or her shoulders when they’re wearing pounds of cold weather clothing.
Beach House: Oh, the irony. Beach House’s older albums are suitable for rainy, cloudy, darkly cold days that inspire nostalgic thoughts about the wonders of childhood.
For some, Christmas was most important back when Santa still existed, and the lyrics of this song are reminiscent of toys and the “heartbreak of our loss,” which, for the purposes of this article, can be interpreted as referring to the loss of the mystery that is Santa Claus.
‘All the Years’
This song is a perfect sing-along-song for the hot showers that are taken only as a means of warming your ice-cold body if you can’t afford to turn on your heater. It also contains dreamy lyrics about icicles in heaven, which is where Jesus is, so it can tie in to the true meaning of Christmas as well, if you so wish.
‘I Do Not Care For The Winter Sun’
Daylight savings is exciting for most of us who enjoy darker night because we can light our fires sooner and feel cozier longer. Beach House can relate, and the simplicity of the song reflects the simplicity of nature, snowflakes and shorter days.
Beirut: Suitable for those who would rather be in Europe over the holidays. Interestingly enough, the lead singer of the band was influenced by Eastern European music, which is geographically where a decent amount of Christmas folklore originated.
‘Forks and Knives (La Fete)’
For those that live in a snowy place, play this song while venturing out in a coat and boots to go Christmas shopping, followed by a cold-weather lunch with a friend. The song could very well inspire you to go into a Hallmark store and admire the many Christmas figurines and stuffed animals. But, whatever you do, don’t read the lyrics. They will certainly take away the wintery effect of the music.
This song continues the ideas conveyed in ‘Forks and Knives,’ but in a lyric-less way that leaves the song completely open to interpretation. It is best suited for a very formal Christmas party at which your parents are in attendance and the Christmas tree is color-coordinated with red and gold ornaments.
Memoryhouse: Suitable for evenings that consist of writing about meaningful relationships that really make you think about who you are as a young, independent woman with a soft spot for cold weather.
This song is about getting cold with someone you can’t stop thinking about, and it has a bit of a nostalgic undertone to it. Perfect for a season that emphasizes family, friends and weather.
If you still think that it is absolutely necessary to listen to Christmas classics, however, Sufjan Stevens’ Christmas song collection is quite entertaining, as is a friend of mine’s favorite, A Christmas Together, by John Denver & The Muppets. One of the most beautiful Christmas albums of our time, however, is Martina McBride’s White Christmas. Odd, but true, and easy to play on repeat while you open the mounds of gifts under the tree on Christmas morning. And let us not forget the beauty of Hanson’s and Christina Aguilera’s respective Christmas albums. Those were by far my favorite to sing along to in the backseat of my mom’s Saturn on the way to Grandma’s house.
Having written all of this, I must admit that I splurged on the absolutely adorable A Very She & Him Christmas LP, and it has undoubtedly renewed my love for traditional Christmas music. The simplicity of the album, as well as the choice of songs and the timelessness of Zooey Deschanel’s voice, remind us of what the holiday season is really about: the comfort of feeling loved by, and enjoying the company of, family and friends, whether or not gifts are exchanged.