Grandma and grandpa used to have this huge, brown, floor-model stereo. It was right smack in the middle of their living room, and next to it, right under the bin of Nana Mouskouri 8-track tapes, sat a small vinyl record collection.
My favourites were chosen partly for the music, partly for the album covers. Boney M was near the top of the list, there was a Woodstock compilation album with a technicolour cover that I loved, and the Walter Fougere School choir album was played on a steady rotation. Number one, however, was Bing Crosby’s Merry Christmas album, the one with “White Christmas” on it. I loved the album cover, I loved Bing, and I loved the music.
Grandma used to play that album for me on a loop; I’m sure I must have driven both of them crazy with the repetition, but she would indulge me, nonetheless. It wouldn’t really have been Christmas without it, and I will always remember kneeling on the coffee table, leaning over the side of that big, brown stereo to move the needle back to the spot on the record where “White Christmas” would play.
A few years later, I discovered a new favourite Christmas song. Joy Thibeau introduced us to many lovely songs throughout elementary school in River Bourgeois, where she taught music and directed the choir for years. “Was It A Night Like Tonight” was one of the tunes she showcased, and it was my jam every year in various concert performances and in church. I can still remember the words and I could probably still manage it on the piano.
Of course, no holiday season would ever be complete without the absolute royalty of Christmas albums – Kenny & Dolly’s Once Upon A Christmas. I defy you to find me a Canadian who can’t sing along to every earworm on that album.
We’re in the thick of the Christmas season now, but only now, not nine weeks ago when all the holiday swag started saturating our lives. The reason people have such great memories associated with iconic Christmas music is because it reminds us of a happy, special time of year that we used to look forward to so much. I don’t know if our kids will have that same nostalgia, though, since it’s lost the exclusivity it once had.
I adore Christmas music, don’t get me wrong; I’m just pointing out that there’s a reason it’s called “Christmas” music – because it’s supposed to be played at Christmastime, not in the middle of September when the school supplies are put away, and not after Michael Jackson’s Thriller is retired after Halloween.
When retailers and radio stations start playing carols two months out, they’ve overstayed their welcome by the time they’re appropriate. One study I read about calls the psychological phenomenon “mere exposure effect,” meaning we like the songs the first few times we hear them because they are familiar and correlate to fond memories, but then we reach peak carol consumption and before long we hit the Christmas music wall. The longer we’re forced to listen, the sooner and harder we’ll crash.
Another side effect of early Christmas music exposure is anxiety among those who feel it is rushing or pressuring them, reminding them of how many miles they have to go before their shopping is done. It’s hard to not jump the gun and feel like you’re falling behind when you’re looking around the store for tulip bulbs to plant, and you’re met with aisles of wrapping paper and overhead “Silent Night.”
So here’s my recommendation to Christmas retailers: I know research says shoppers get to feeling all festive and buy more when we hear Christmas carols. We’re helpless around the familiar scent of cinnamon in combination with an instrumental version of “Joy to the World.” But can we save it for after Black Friday so we don’t get burned out? I don’t want to live in a world where I dread hearing “Winter Wonderland.” Kenny & Dolly have been in my life for more than 30 years, I’d hate to have to cut them out now.
From my home to yours, I hope everyone has a safe and enjoyable holiday with the people you love.