The perfect recipe to get in the holiday spirit calls for spiked eggnog, a good Christmas sweater, and the cherry on top: Christmas music. Tunes for the holiday season seem to put you in a festive spirit whether you’re walking through a department store or cleaning your place on Saturday morning.
In this Dec. 3, 2014 file photo, Mariah Carey performs at the 82nd Annual Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting ceremony in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP, File)
But when it comes to music, you might notice most of our favorite holiday hits are decades old. Twenty-six years after its debut, and for the second time this year, Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas has returned to the top spot on billboard’s Hot 100 chart. Four other songs on the week’s top 10 are also Yuletide songs from previous decades, like José Feliciano's 1970 hit Feliz Navidad and Brenda Lee's 1958 classic Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree.
Even though they aren't on this week's top hit list, holiday grooves like I’ll be Home for Christmas and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, released in 1943 and 1944, will be playing in homes and cars throughout the season.
The Commercialization of Christmas
Our obsession with nostalgic holiday tunes can be linked to money entering the holiday picture. Prior to the release of the American classic White Christmas, written by Irving Berlin and performed by Bing Crosby in 1942, mainstream Christmas music primarily consisted of religious hymns and gospel.
A copy of singer Bing Crosby's 1945 Decca label album 'Merry Christmas' for sale in an antique shop in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The album includes Crosby's signature song 'White Christmas', the best-selling single of all-time. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
Once Crosby released White Christmas, it took off and was a hit with troops who’d been serving in World War II for two years by that point. The music apparently hit a nerve with service members yearning to be home during the holidays as the lyrics strayed from familiar hymns and instead described childhood sleigh rides.
The record has stuck with American culture for decades and became the blueprint for what songs of the season aspire to do — create a nostalgic feel that can transport a listener back to the holidays of their youth.
In 2012, 68 years after its release, White Christmas went on to be credited by Guinness as the best-selling single in history, moving 50 million copies worldwide.
So far since, few artists, aside from Mariah Carey and maybe Boyz II Men (if we’re allowing their cover of the classic 1947 Let it Snow slide), have really been able to create a holiday hit big enough to become practically a movement. And, with the heavy-hitters we already know and love playing on repeat for weeks on end, it is unlikely Americans will stop turning to their favorite songs from yesteryear for some feel-good Christmas cheer.
Video produced by Ali Larkin. Article written by Lawrence Banton.