Disclaimer: this isn’t the Jewish perspective on Christmas music, it is the perspective of myself, one particular Jewish person with very niche ideas about music, and slightly less niche ideas about Christmas.
That being said, I really hate Christmas. It comes around, seemingly earlier and earlier every year, hoovering up every other cultural artefact in its wake. It’s too cheery, so cheery that it feels forced. Personally, the winter months (all of which have now been consumed by the holiday’s insatiable appetite) have always felt like they ought to be a time for reflection on the year just passed, a time where the cold stillness in the air around us should make us stop for a moment, and step away from the busy world which we inhabit throughout the rest of the year.
Instead, we are bombarded with an unrelenting stream of loud, shiny advertisements, stupid light displays with all the subtlety of a forest fire, and irritating, repetitive songs, aggressively commanding us to be joyous when, most of the time, I really don’t have the energy. The only time we’re allowed to stop and slow down for a bit is when we’re so stuffed full of Christmas cheer, that we are forced to lie on the couch, totally immobilised with the buttons of our jeans undone to allow room for painful swelling, or when we’re encouraged to step back and think about the birth of baby Jesus, and let’s be honest… I’m not about that life, at all.
My apologies to those who live for Christmas, but to me, the holiday has always seemed to be little more than an invasion of my personal space, and a lot of that is down to Christmas music. You can shut other art forms out. You can close your eyes or look away if you see a painting that you don’t like. You can turn off a film, or walk out of a theatre if the story is not to your liking. You can put down a book. Music however, is everywhere – you can’t shut it out, not if you want to get your shopping done, or occupy practically any public space during November and December. Want to get away from Christmas music? You’d better be okay with not being able to hear anything in your immediate surroundings for at least two months of the year.
You know what else sucks? Being called a Scrooge or a Grinch whenever I get annoyed about the excessive nature of Christmas. I’m Jewish. I’ve never celebrated Christmas, nor do identify with the holiday in any way shape or form. I’m not a curmudgeonly naysayer who hates other people’s happiness, I just don’t appreciate that a religious holiday in which I don’t feel comfortable partaking most of the time, has become a cultural norm so pervasive that I am actively prevented from avoiding it.
Christmas isn’t all bad, but it would be preferable if I were only exposed to it in small doses, by people who are aware of, and respect my cultural background. For example, my housemates and I are planning on having a Chrismakah (a portmanteau of Christmas and Chanukah) meal, where all of our cultural customs are welcome.
So, with all of this in mind, I thought I’d share some of the Christmas music that is a little more reflective of my experiences of the holiday (both preferred and in reality), as well as of a less repetitive musical approach to it, and who knows, maybe you’ll find something enjoyable or meaningful here.
Elliot Galvin – ‘Circuit Bent Christmas’
Béla Fleck and the Flecktones – ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’
Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer, Stuart Duncan and Aoife O’Donovan – ‘All Through the Night’
Joshua Radin – ‘Winter’
And just for fun…