I was at a party recently, as sometimes happens to be the case, when something totally unexpected occurred. The house was packed with loud, sweaty partygoers, the lights were appropriately multicolored and dim, and the playlist was bopping; overall, it was a normal party. Then, however, the song changed. For a brief second the crowd fell silent, trying to figure out what track they were going to mosh to next. Then, as everyone collectively realized what was playing, a crescendo of joyful screams broke out, all singing the same wintry “I…. don’t want a lot for Christmas.” That’s right: Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” had begun playing. For the next four minutes and one second, everyone—and I mean everyone—started furiously partying to a song that was definitely not intended to be partied to. Of all the music played that night, Mariah Carey’s holiday jingle was the one that created the most hype.
The reaction that those partygoers had is a familiar one to anybody who has ever been alive during the period from November (or late October if you’re really extra) to December. Christmas music has become a staple of the months leading up to the holiday, with avid fans spending hours listening to the smooth crooning of Michael Bublé. While Christmas music has gained a sort of fanatical religious following, what makes it interesting is that much of this following isn’t religiously Christian.
Instead of enjoying Noel-themed songs for their religious content, what many listeners like about Christmas music, and by extension the holiday itself, is the spirit that it creates. As a Jew, I have zero personal connection to Christmas. I have no pleasant memories of sitting on mall Santa’s lap or leaving out milk and cookies for him. Instead, what I do have is the content of about a trillion Christmas specials that flood all the television channels every December. Because of how the “holiday spirit” is constantly perpetuated in pop culture, I automatically associate Christmas with things such as: the sheer joy of waking up to your neighborhood covered in a perfect blanket of snow; sitting in front of a fire in a log cabin sipping hot chocolate and telling stories; and, finally, the joy of waking up on Christmas day and rushing downstairs to open your large pile of presents. Of course, these associations are all totally ridiculous. I live in New York City, so by the time I wake up the snow has just turned to that gross slush that stays for months; I do not and never will own a log cabin; and I have never owned a Christmas tree nor celebrated Christmas. However, even though I, and many other non-Christians or Christians who don’t own log cabins, have never done any of those things, they have been so ingrained into our brains that we immediately connect them to the holidays—resulting in all the non-Christians getting excited about something that we don’t even celebrate. Since these positive associations are linked to the secular side of the holiday instead of the religious side, this Yuletide faux-spirit is accessible by all, allowing for people of every ethnicity and religion to enjoy the ethos embodied by Christmas music.
However, while the universality of festive cheer is great, it has the unintentional side effect of supplanting enthusiasm about other religious holidays. While I love Hanukkah and agree that it is super dope, it’s pretty unlikely that you will find me out on the streets blasting “I Have a Little Dreidel” (even though it too, is a bop). This is not something I, or any non-Christian who listens to Michael Bublé, should be held accountable for. While it is sad, there is almost no pop culture representation of Hanukkah, or most other Jewish holidays. Therefore, the same positive associations that have been created for Christmas don’t really exist for other holidays. In fact, Yule has practically co-opted winter itself, with natural events such as snow becoming linked to presents and “Jingle Bells.” All that people like me have is the actual memories of our own holidays, and while those are nice, they can’t stand up to the force of decades of Christmas specials specifically crafted to create nostalgia and warmth.
So, while I’m hyped for Hanukkah, that hype can’t really compete with the visceral excitement I feel when I think about candy canes and snow. This phenomenon is representative of a larger trend of assimilation that takes place in America. Generation by generation old cultural practices and bonds slowly fade away as the youth gravitate more towards American, and sometimes by extension, Christian culture. But, even though we’re not responsible for the years of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” pounding the Yuletide spirit into our heads, we are responsible for remembering our own cultural heritage. So go ahead and jam out to some Mariah Carey. But while you’re at it, make sure that you leave space in your heart (and maybe your Spotify playlist) for your own traditions.
Daniel Knopf is a member of the class of 2022 and can be reached at email@example.com.