Walking around any town centre, any shop or even your own street it is hard to escape the fact that it is the Christmas season. With Christmas lights, decorations, cards, tv shows and movies a transformation happens at this time of year. Personally, the thing that signals that Christmas is here is the music. In most stores, on most radio stations, the usual content is either replaced or interspersed with Christmas songs. There is a surge of festive music events with choirs singing, school carol concerts and the traditional songs sung in churches. The music can typically be divided into two groups: Carols and pop songs.
Christmas Carol singing has its origins in the Middle Ages. Groups of ‘wassailers’ went from house to house singing to spread joy and entertaining during the winter period. They sang pagan songs for Winter Solstice that predated Christian hymns, however as time went on Christmas Carols became more popular. Lyrics from popular carols are likely to have originated from Medieval times, but their melodies are Victorian (ClassicFM). As a way to tell the nativity story, carols have an uplifting and celebratory style and have very memorable melodies and beautiful harmonies for choirs and groups to sing. Their musicality has ensured that these carols have also become a staple of secular family celebrations in addition to church festivities (National Trust). The Traditional carol Silent Night with lyrics by Joseph Mohr and composed by Franz Xaver Gruber is arguably the most popular Christmas song. According to Billboard in 2017 Silent Night had 137,315 different recorded versions - the most of any Chirstmas song.
There are many Christmas songs that are so classic that they have been remade by many different artists. Many popular artists have released Christmas albums, and more often than not they contain covers rather than original songs. White Christmas (128,276), Jingle Bells (89,681), The Christmas Song (80,064) and Winter Wonderland (70,471) also have many different recorded versions (Billboard) .
Once a Christmas song is popular one year, it gets added to the repotoire and is replyed the next. Our Christmas playlists are probably the most diverse in terms of release year of any of our music compliations. With songs from throughout the 1900's to the present day it is amazing how many of these songs have stood the test of time. With old classic such as Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town (1934) or Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (1944) to modern day classic like All I Want for Christmas Is You (1994), Christmas Time (Don't Let The Bells End) (2003) and One More Sleep (2013) a good Christmas song has the potential to be a yearly staple. It is also a very lucrative decision to make a Chirstmas song or album, for artists and record companies. Noddy Holder of Slade has even been quoted saying that his 1973 Christmas number 1 Merry Xmas Everybody is his "pension scheme" (NME).
A big goal for many music artists is to get the lucrative ‘Christmas Number 1’. The first UK music charts were published in 1952 and since then a Christmas Number 1 has been achieved by ‘music icons, cartoon characters, punk-rock disruptors, TV talent show winners, and all-star charity records’ (Official Charts)
It has become a big deal in the UK, with many people enjoying the most unpredictable chart race of the year. A Christmas number one is the ultimate prize, with most of these songs gaining huge popularity. Only 12 of the chart-toppers are actual Christmas songs, however many of the non-Christmas themed chart hits have become synonymous with the Christmas season. Both chart toppers and other songs released during Winter have found a way to be associated with one of the biggest holidays of the year and this has given the songs a new identity.
Much like the debate as to whether Die Hard is a Christmas film, there is similar controversy as to whether East 17’s Stay Another Day is a Christmas song (BBC). 2 Become 1 by the Spice Girls, Never Had A Dream Come True by S Club 7 and The Power of Love by Frankie Goes To Hollywood also have no mentioned of Chirstmas in their lyrics, but their music video or just simple timing of their relase have lead to them being played every Christmas.
It's amazing to think how many songs have stood the test of time. It is a testament to the quality (or catchiness) of these songs that many of them are decades old and still brought out every year. These songs soundtrack all of our Christmases so it is inevitable that so many memories are attched to these melodies. They remind us of our childhoods, family, friends and festivites. And singing the songs together brings so much joy and allows us to connect with people during the holiday season. So make sure that this year, and every year you get your fill of Mariah Carey, Shakin' Stevens, Wham and Michael Bublé - because it'll soon be another 11 months before you can enjoy them again. Title song - Merry Christmas Everyone by Shakin' Stevens