I can’t remember where I heard this season’s “first” Christmas pop song. But like hearing the first birds of spring, suddenly there it was blaring from some outdoor mall or airport …and before the World Series was even over! So why is it that songs about a reindeer’s red nose, silver bells, or a dream of a white Christmas fill our ears year after year (whether we like it or not)? I love these songs and I have fond memories of these songs as a kid. I’d just prefer to remember them from a time where I was butchering them in a school play or caroling door to door, rather than hearing them in these public places.
Christmas classics like Drummer Boy, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Silver Bells, and Blue Christmas have been playing in retail stores, gas stations, hotel lobbies and over the radio waves for more than 60 years. Recently, these songs and many other holiday pop classics were highlighted in a popular web comic strip XKCD. The illustration points out that many of these songs, as well as other Christmas blue chip classics, were published and recorded around the 1940s and 1950s. Hint, it’s the baby boomers that we have to thank for keeping these songs in the mainstream for so many years.
Eric Harvey, a PhD candidate in Indiana University’s Department of Communication and Culture claims during a very specific time in American history (1940s and 1950s), culture and technology played a big role in the release of many of these holiday classics. During that time millions of young baby boomers were enjoying holiday films like Bob Hope’s the Lemon Drop Kid which gave us Silver Bells, and Bing Crosby’s Holiday Inn where he famously croons as a WWII soldier returning home with “I’ll be home for Christmas.” In the late 40s radio began to converge with TV and it was commonplace for families to be huddled around their living rooms enjoying holiday musicals, the songs forever etching memories of Christmas past in their minds.
With over 76 million babies born between 1945 and 1964 (who today make up more than half of all consumer spending in the US), it’s no surprise these songs are being used intentionally by retailers to recreate Christmas past and market to today’s multigenerational audiences – hopefully stimulating spending around the holiday season.
Harvey also points out, however, that “While it’s true that the majority of Christmas pop music played on mainstream radio stations was originally published and recorded in the 1940s and 50s, and naturally the culture of that time will permeate these songs, that does not directly equate to a modern nostalgia for that era.” In other words, what if you’re not a baby boomer? What if you didn’t see the movies, the TV show or are just too young to identify with these songs?
With the sheer repetition of these songs being played during today’s stressful holiday seasons, will these songs eventually condition us to equate them with long lines, holiday traffic or the dreaded visit from you’re annoying brother-in law? Very doubtful. After all, every generation has their favorite Christmas songs, and with today’s limitless choices and devices to hear them, it’s sure to be a Rockin’ Holiday Season for all generations! My personal favorites are Father Christmas by The Kinks, Greg Lake’s Do You Believe in Father Christmas? and Joan Jett’s Little Drummer Boy. What are yours?