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My Love/Hate Relationship With Christmas Music

A Personal Perspective: Christmas music can sometimes feel imposed on us.

Key points

  • Just like any other type of music, Christmas music is subjective.
  • Christmas music can be triggering for those who are lonely or dealing with a recent loss.
  • Sometimes you have to just slow down and appreciate the moment, or the music.

I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas music. Mostly, my issue is with the repetitious playlists of the same 28 songs that various radio stations and retail outlets start playing when they temporarily "flip" their format. “Twenty-four hours of non-stop Christmas music!” You know them—Bing Crosby singing Rudolph, Burl Ives singing Frosty, followed by Michael Buble singing Rudolph and Frosty in the style of Bing Crosby and Burl Ives (and I like Bing and Burl and Buble.) At family gatherings starting on Christmas morning, someone inevitably cranks up the local radio station and the madness begins. A 28-song playlist, repeated… repeated… repeated… throughout the day. And then suddenly, by three o’clock, we are out of spiked egg nog.


Now, I’m not a total Scrooge. I like Christmas. And when I get to pick the Christmas music… fine. Or, when someone finds something new and interesting by an artist that I can listen to sing anything (Norah Jones)… fine. And I might even enjoy some Christmas music while decorating the tree with my family, or while having cocktails with friends—as long as it’s in December. But, when I walk into Target to pick up some last-minute Halloween candy for the trick-or-treaters coming the next day, and hear Bing or Burl or Buble singing Rudolph and Frosty? My stress level rises.

The Christmas Spirit or Holiday Stress?

As we know, music brings up emotions and prompts deep-rooted feelings. And it’s those first strands of Christmas music, now in October (soon to be in September?) that, I assume, is supposed to help get us in the holiday mood. But often times, it can trigger some of the not so nice feelings of impending doom… “Holiday stress!”

The holidays can be hard for many people, especially people who are alone or people who have suffered recent loss. And music exacerbates those emotions. When we are bombarded with it, it can be a constant reminder of what we are missing in our lives. I know that we don’t get to always pick the music we hear, and certainly not when we are out in public or listening to the radio, but sometimes I feel as though Christmas music is "imposed" on me. Certainly, in October and November. And many times, it prompts more of a stress response than a giddy, warm holiday feel.

But… sometimes it does really feel right. Especially when you finally get to settle down after all of the madness and be with family and friends. A winter beverage in hand, the lights a-glow… it can be the perfect soundtrack in the right setting. And if it ever snows again in December in these parts, all the better! It feels right on my terms. (And if you enjoy Christmas music in October, or year-round for that matter, great! Who am I to tell you what to listen to? The beauty of music is that it’s subjective. I support everyone’s personal music preferences.)

What it really comes down to, in my opinion, is how you look at things. How you look at and approach life. Can you really just allow yourself to simply slow down and enjoy a moment? Enjoy a Christmas song even though there is so much anxiety around it all?


I remember, a few years ago this time of year, I was sitting in an open area of a chemotherapy infusion suite in one of the hospitals where I work as a music therapist, providing some "environmental" music on the guitar for those having treatment that day. Providing music to offer… something to help while they were sitting for hours getting "infused" with powerful chemotherapy drugs. As is usually the case, they looked fatigued, they looked contemplative. (And… it’s the Christmas session.) I try to give them something helpful with the music. Comfort? Hope? A soundscape for reflection?

On this particular day, there was a woman wearing a bright red Christmas sweater, sitting in a recliner hooked up to various IVs while the nurse occasionally monitored her drips and her blood pressure. She caught my eye as I was playing. She gave a soft smile, leaned in and quietly said, “Could you play some Christmas songs?” Certainly, in a hospital, or a cancer treatment center, Christmas songs or any holiday music can be a slippery-slope that I generally stay away from. We know music can be a trigger for feelings of loneliness or despair. Just imagine what it must be like to either be in the hospital or going through treatment during this time of the year. (I’m sure that some of you can.) But I looked around and there were only a few people there at the time, so I thought I would oblige. I would certainly continuously assess the room to see if there were any negative reactions.

And then…

When I started playing, the most beautiful smile took over her face and her eyes widened like a child while she listened, looking lovingly at me. Her smile immediately warmed me up inside. A veil of calmness and comfort came over me. The others, who until then appeared to be lost in their own worlds, looked at her… looked at me… and their faces brightened, now also listening with some intent. In that moment, I felt… peaceful. The room felt peaceful as I sat and played Christmas music in a cancer infusion suite. Suddenly, connecting with her, all of the stressors of the upcoming days just melted away. I even felt… hopeful. This woman, sitting in a chair while chemotherapy drugs were invading her body, made me feel hopeful. I thought of my kids. I thought of my family and friends and how lucky I am to have them. I felt happy to be playing… Christmas music.

But what she really made me realize—what she taught me in that moment—was how much control we have over how we look at things. How we choose to live our lives. How sometimes, we just need to slow down and enjoy the moment. Live life in the moment. It sounds so cliché, but think about where she was and why she was there. Regardless of what tomorrow may bring, regardless of what she may be dealing with or suffering through, she was living life in the moment... enjoying a Christmas song. If she can do it, well, certainly I can too.

So now, whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed, and I’m reminded of all of the "stressors of the holidays," the money being spent, and everything that has to be done, prompted by unwanted Christmas music… I think of her. I think of her infectious smile. And I slow down. I take a breath and just allow myself to be in the moment. I feel hopeful. I feel joy. I may even sing Rudolf in the style of Buble doing Bing. After all, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Happy holidays.

*The stories presented in this blog are based on accounts and experiences and are not actual accounts or experiences.

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