Op-Ed: Melancholy Christmas songs bring comfort during a season known for joy

In American culture, Christmas is often synonymous with joy. I encourage you to host a “Holly Jolly Christmas”.

But for many, the feelings of the season are more complicated, with feelings of nostalgia and melancholy evoked during this time of year. We think of our loved ones who have gone missing over the holidays. Parents miss the days when their children used to write letters to Santa. Most people have too much to do, and lonely people may find their loneliness even more acute.

As Christmas music kicks off its weeks-long marathon, I often think of songs that recognize what this “best time of the year” really feels like.

Part of this sentiment was captured by Elvis Presley in his version of “Blue Christmas,” telling the story of a romantic breakup.

The concept of a Blue Christmas is becoming more and more accepted by the church, and one might expect the message of Christmas joy to subvert more conflicting feelings. Some congregations are now offering Blue Christmas services. There, reading not only highlights the reality of loss, but also the message of hope represented by the birth of Christ.

In fact, during Advent, the period of the liturgical calendar leading up to Christmas, the church often emphasizes the sense of mystery and confusion that preceded the birth of Christ. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” with a solemn, hymn-like melody that goes back to France.

The opening verse refers to the Jewish inhabitants of ancient Jerusalem being conquered by Babylon and mourning “here in solitary exile.” Waiting for the Messiah foretold by the prophet Isaiah, “Emmanuel,” meaning “God is with us,” they will “dispel the dark clouds of night, and cast away the dark shadows of death.” I am looking forward to it.

Behind the church door, Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time Is Here” sets the mood for the holiday bittersweet with moody jazz harmonies and waltz feelings behind an angelic children’s choir. is capturing This is the opening he song for the classic “Peanuts” animated TV special, which begins with a depressed Charlie Brown going to Lucy for therapy.

But in my opinion, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” may convey the atmosphere of nostalgia and seasonal melancholy better than any other. Recorded in October 1943, the song was right in the middle of World War II and, like “White Christmas” the previous year, became a Bing He Crosby hit.

“I’m coming home for Christmas,” he sings in his rich baritone, describing the snow and mistletoe he desires — for listeners to know that a visit to this home is “only in my dreams.” ” before realizing it can happen.

The popularity of Crosby’s version of the song is partly due to how it captured the emotions of a wartime world. Banned the song, stating that it “has adopted a policy of excluding morbid emotions that make it nauseating, especially when sung by certain vocalists, and are not at all consistent with what we feel.” Being a need of the masses of this country. ”

The catalog of melancholy Christmas songs is huge and still growing. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is also in a wishful thinking mood and was written during the war in 1943. A hit by many artists, including the Eagles, “Please Come Home for Christmas” doubles the romantic yearnings of “Blue Christmas.” Joni Mitchell’s “River” opens with the wistful piano notes of “Jingle Bells” and includes the lyric “I wish there was a river I could skate on.” The list goes on.

It’s no mystery why there are so many sad songs this season. For many of us, vacations come with emotional thorns. Some people have too many people to connect with and buy gifts for, and some people just don’t have enough.

December can be a lonely month. We often measure our present life against the past, but much of our anxiety is removed through selective memory. Still, the holidays promise a more peaceful and harmonious world, even for those who find this season difficult. And we can take some comfort in the fact that the different emotions of the holidays helped create some great music.

David W. Stowe teaches religious studies at Michigan State University and is most recently the author of “Song of Exile: The Enduring Mystery of Psalm 137.” This article was produced in partnership with his The Conversation.

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