Dec 12, 2023·edited Dec 12, 2023Liked by Addison Del Mastro

Check the three Christmas records by Cincinnati institution “Over the Rhine”. Each is very much a picture unto itself.

Darkest Night of the Year (brooding)

Snow Angels (warm and a little sad)

Blood Oranges in the Snow (traditional)

Don’t forget Low’s “Christmas” either!!

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Dec 12, 2023·edited Dec 12, 2023

[Sorry - this comment is kind of a mess because it started with a firing neuron responding to your post by reminding me of an old time radio show and then moved into me talking about Christmas songs, but I think the two halves fit together well enough that I kept them both]

For a while early in the Trump presidency I liked to listen to Old Time Radio broadcasts of Gunsmoke while I walked the dog. It helped me clear my head and escape the troubled present.


One of the most striking things for me in the first seasons is that the "commercials," such as they are, are invariably for things like donating blood, becoming a nurse, and making sure your growing community has enough money to build schools. It is a kind of social capacity that is still latent in individuals but the idea that there is such a communitarian obligation that it's OK for a popular radio program to nudge you on it feels like a relic of an entirely different culture.

My favorite urbanist Christmas song is Silver Bells. It's one of the few songs that literally celebrates Christmas time in the city, instead of locating it in the countryside which is people's authentic home. But the things celebrated in Silver Bells (bustling sidewalks, dressing up, children out and about) are, just like communitarian radio commercials, hardly visible at all in the city today. So yes you could write a song about them but it would be self-consciously nostalgic.

Two addenda - (1) maybe Silver Bells was self-consciously nostalgic in 1950, but it has receded into the past enough that I'm not sure!, and (2) just like people say "they don't make 'em like they used to" about the old houses *that have escaped demolition*, we're only tuning in to the old Christmas songs *that we're still thinking about* -- give us another 70 years and maybe there will be a dozen or so turn-of-the-millennium Christmas songs that hold up with the classics.

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Silver Bells actually does describe Midtown Manhattan up until 2019 though! I won't say anything about post-lockdown NYC, but I'll romanticize 2010s NYC all day lol.

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Makes me think of your post a couple weeks ago on Friendsgiving. Christmas is often a time of semi-obligatory engagement with family. That can be stressful in itself, but I think there's maybe a related factor: the decline of "family friends".

As I grew up, my friendships were always very horizontal, very individual. I felt unusual because so many of my friends were a full year ahead of me in school, and as I matured from middle to high school, one of the things I found myself aging "out" of was a coherent "friend group", as opposed to a bunch of different people I was all friends with as individuals (or occasionally very small groups), but who wouldn't necessarily hang out unless I actively brought them together. And all of these social dynamics occurred with no input from or reference to any of our parents. My mom always had her own friends; my dad's social circle was heavily restricted to his work until only a few years ago, and I have no idea if his second wife has anything like the nonfamily friend relationships I'm thinking of. After college, I became a sort of "family friend" to a couple I had met in school, but that was always a relatively odd dynamic - the wife's family was the core of her social circle, in a way that seemed to relate to them having immigrated here from Russia as a family when she was a youngish child.

All of that is to say: my life has always been partitioned, at a minimum, into the facets associated with my family and those that relate to one or more sets of friends, with little or no natural crossover between groups. And since my friends are people I choose, who themselves choose with me to do similar things, I identify strongly with them, even as the paeticulars of my background and family identify me specifically among them.

To return to family, year after year - it often feels like I'm forced, not just to temporarily pause whatever I might be doing in the day to day, but to temporarily leave behind a part of myself, which I will have to reintegrate and reabsorb when I return to the life from which I was visiting. That separation makes it hard to have much nostalgia for these particular holidays, especially when (for entirely unrelated reasons) my father's family is so disconnected from its history, and the Passover holiday has always been the more critical connection in my mother's.

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I hear underneath the tree enough that I would personally consider it as having successfully joined the classics

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David Bauder, a media and entertainment reporter for the Associated Press, was contemplating much this same topic recently:


"Writing a new holiday song is brutally hard, since you’re competing with not just current hits but hundreds of years of songs and memories. The old classics never go away. Only 10 entries on Billboard’s last Hot 100 of holiday songs last year were written after “All I Want for Christmas is You.” ...

"A handful of more contemporary songs have shown potential staying power, like Ariana Grande’s “Santa Tell Me” from 2014, Kelly Clarkson’s “Underneath the Tree” from 2013, Gwen Stefani & Blake Shelton’s “You Make it Feel Like Christmas” from 2017 and Taylor Swift’s “Christmas Tree Farm” from 2019."

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The thing is, there's still a market for sweet, saccharine christmas movies and christmas rom-coms. I think everyone loved 2018's Klaus. 2003's Elf instantly became a classic. There are so many good new Christmas Movies, I've gone multiple christmases of late without watching my old favorites of "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Story." Most of the new ones don't stick with me but plenty do.

I'm not sure there isn't a market for sweet saccharine christmas songs that make you believe the world is filled with peace and love and that snows and sweaters make you feel cold outside but warm inside. I'm guessing either some of today's songs need time to bake before becoming classics - they're not "instant classics" - or the marketing and distribution of modern streaming and radio doesn't know how to reach everyone with a great new xmas song - i imagine the audience is a bit different than finding the latest country or reggaeton or R&B hit. But if Netflix and every other streamer knows how to get us to watch christmas movies, there's no reason christmas songs have to be limited to old ones.

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I noticed my christmas playlist after this post and there are a few songs of the last decade that made it in there pretty nonchalantly - they don't sound like an old Bing Crosby song, but they do feel as much a part of Christmas as the Beatles or Wham! Not on par with Mariah but not out of place either. In addition to the Kelly Clarkson and Gwen Stefani songs mentione above, there's:

Ariana Grande's "Santa Tell Me"

Sia's "Santa's Coming for Us" and "Santa Visits Everyone"

T Swift's "Christmas Tree Farm"

These kinda make me think we're overshooting in wondering who'll replace Mariah. It's like expecting something to replace Jingle Bells - which is ~150 years old. But some of these songs will fit in as normally as that one sorta cringey but catchy "Let Them Know it's Christmas Time" song (from Live Aid maybe?) Yea some of the classics from the 1940s will endure and never die, but new ones do get added and will continue to and some will find a place in our hearts as they become more and more ingrained in the holiday.

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