Why no new Christmas songs?

A silly thing to ask, but I need to think out loud for a moment here.

A friend noted on Facebook this evening the following: “Listening to christmas music on the radio I realized that every carol and song has been recorded in every style and genre possible.”

It got me thinking – why ARE there no new Christmas songs? Why am I listening to the exact same Christmas music that my dad (and probably my grandfather) listened to at my age, and much younger? I’m pushing 40 and I can definitely tell I haven’t heard any new songs since I was five.

My dad is fond of pointing out at this time of year that “nobody ever writes any new ones, they just take the old ones and ‘jazz em up.’” He’s right. It’s as if Christmas music were some kind of black-box technology: Something that can only be maintained and repaired (adapted/ jazzed-up/ tinkered with), not created from scratch. Why is that?

Are you actually telling me that we’ve run out of things to say about the holiday season? Yes? Okay, so why haven’t we run out of things to say about a man and a woman getting together, or pursuing a relationship, or getting over one that’s been lost? Humans’ romantic love has been around far, far longer than has the celebration of Christmas, and is only slightly more complex. (Don’t get me started on what a mess the holiday has become – everything from the crass commercialism to the annual squabbles with the likes of the ACLU.)

So what’s the deal? Another trend, I’ve noticed, is for some singer (especially country singers) to record a ‘Christmas album’ consisting of “your favorite singer singing all the classic favorites.” Some years ago some slick outfit dug up Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas” and Elvis singing, “Here Comes Santa Claus” and a few others, and slapped THAT onto a so-called ultimate Christmas album.

It makes me wonder – why AREN’T new holiday carols being written and recorded each year as with other songs? I’d wager good money that “Rockin Around the Christmas Tree” was the last original Christmas song ever written or recorded, and that song is probably fifty years old by now or close to it.

I think “Silent Night” was written almost 200 years ago….though I don’t mind the actual Christian Christmas songs as much – it’s the secular ones I get the most tired of since that’s what I hear in stores at this time of year. I could probably stand to hear “Away in a Manger” and “We Three Kings” a few hundred more times, but it’s gotten to the point where I have to actually go to church to hear those (not that there’s anything wrong with going to church) or play the song in my car or home if I want to hear it. (Come to think of it, new worship music is being written and recorded on a regular basis, and I imagine a few of these songs ARE Christmas-oriented.)

This isn’t the case with “Silver Bells” or “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Is it because those are less….controversial? Because they don’t mention Jesus – “the reason for the season?” Okay, fine. Write me some new songs about bells or candles or gift giving or lights or decorations or…..turkey or ham dinners, for that matter.

I just don’t get it. Why do we spend every holiday shopping season being beaten over the head with jazzed-up (but worn out) Christmas carols?

17 thoughts on “Why no new Christmas songs?

  1. Yes…

    Christmas music.

    I am a Christmas freak and a music freak, so it probably won’t surprise anyone that I’m also a Christmas Music freak.

    Early Christmas music consisted of Church Music and some folk carols. Turns out “carols” did not originally refer to Christmas songs as well, but that’s a tangent.

    It’s a bit complicated, because the Church (brilliantly, I think) took advantage of the fact that there were these huge winter solstice celebrations Christianized cultures everywhere kind of melded the old traditions and infused many of them with new meanings. So you’ve got all kinds of “Christmas” songs that are really winter songs, and of course the whole St. Nicholas/Santa Claus thing has a zillion songs going. And then a bunch of very recent (relatively speaking) blatant “traditions” made up like “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “The Little Drummer Boy” (probably my least favorite Christmas song — but that’s probably because I don’t count stupid stuff like “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer”. And I know, the Little Drummer Boy story at least has the true meaning as a theme, but it’s a dull song anyway).

    There have been Christmas songs written since “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” (“Christmas Time is Here” – [Vince Guraldi, 1965] from the Charlie Brown Christmas comes to mind as an obvious example) but I know what you mean about “all” the songs being old.

    I think it has something to do with Christmas being steeped in tradition, and all the songs “everyone” knows are ones that have stood the test of time and are now “classic”. It’s probably very hard for a song to break into that elite group of songs. It’s got to “sound” traditional, or wax on about tradition. With me, anyway, the music is about producing an atmosphere.

    The other reason we don’t think there are any new Christmas songs is that … well, most of the newer ones suck. They fail at giving a nod to nostalgia either sonically or lyrically — or they mock the holiday … which, with the exception of Bob Dorough’s “Blue X-mas” which mocks the commercialism, not the holiday itself — I just can’t abide by. Perfect example “Grandma Got Runned Over ….” just, bleah.

    I have probably 100 Christmas CDs. Most of them are, indeed, old stuff. I like some contemporary stuff (from Phil Spector to Jimmy Buffett — “Christmas in the Carribean” and “Ho Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum” … not religious, no. But fun.) The latter will never be a classic. The former might end up one for people who live in warmer climes. But as the season rolls on, my tastes get more and more traditional, until by the last several days I’m literally listening to Church Music (The Sixteen, Harry Christophers and the like).

    The newer songs … you’re right. Mostly not religious. And it is because of the culture shift. The main place you’ll find overt religious references will probably be Country music, as that is the last bastion of American Culture as we knew it.

    To bad it’s what produced “Grandma ….”

    Well nothing’s perfect.

  2. Even the more “modern” Christmas songs are by now 35 or more years old… stuff like “Step Into Christmas” and “Wonderful Christmastime” or the Kinks’ “Father Christmas.”

    There’s an xkcd comic that theorizes that what we’ve got now with Christmas music is the tastes of the Boomer generation, frozen in amber and put on exhibit every December. (“An ‘American Tradition’ is anything that happened to a baby boomer twice,” he says in the alt text.) I do think your “whys” are an interesting exploration.

  3. There’s some truth to that xkcd observation. I’ve read it before. Most of the modern trappings of American Christmas we know today came with it’s commercialization in the 1930′s-1960′s.

    The fact of the matter is, it’s not what it used to be, so to get close to what it was, you have to go back.

    If we still looked at it the same way, maybe newer pertinent material would come out. But we don’t.

    Hence my gravitation to 18th & 19th century stuff, especially as we get closer to Christmas. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” just doesn’t cut it for me more than a couple times a year.

  4. Pingback: dustbury.com » Same old chestnuts to roast

  5. Yes, that’s a great one by ELP.

    One I just can’t stand anymore is John Lennon’s “Merry Christmas/War is Over” … just like I can’t stand “Imagine” anymore for pretty much the same reasons.

    Elton John’s “Step Into Christmas” is a nice lively modern one. Yeah, probably pushing 30 years old now, too.

    My wife hates it, because she’s not a Michael McDonald fan… but I liked an album he put out for Hallmark 6 or so years ago. Yes, a lot of it re-hashed and re-styled (I love his version of Deck the Halls) … but there are a few originals, “Through the Many Winters” and “Christmas on the Bayou”. Those things get written, recorded, and you don’t know if they’re going to enter the lexicon for 10 or 12 years.

    “This Christmas” from 1970 is one song that people started covering in the 80′s… see how that works?

    But there is one other factor we haven’t talked about, and that’s the great popular music songwriting and the associated musicals that came out of Hollywood in the 1940′s, 50′s, and 60′s. Today’s popular culture is focused mainly on vanity and ugliness. These things don’t lend themselves well to lasting Chrsitmas classics.

  6. I also wonder if Christmas albums are often rehashes because those are the songs the artists themselves grew up singing and loving. Nearly every “classic” Christmas album I own only has one or two originals on it.

  7. I know exactly what you mean. So I did something about it.
    How about a song called “I’d Rather Be Alone,” about a guy who wants nothing to do with his cheating wife on Christmas, and is going to “block off the chimney and board up the windows” to his home while he knocks back Coronas and listens to the Rolling Stones.
    Okay, how about something less bleak, and even more universal, like “Santa’s Getting Bigger Every Year,” or “Credit Card Christmas.”
    And then there’s the ode to those unfortunate folks who were born on Dec. 25. “My Birthday’s On Christmas” deals with such annual ripoffs as that “double duty” check from Grandma.
    Starting to get the picture? “Off White Christmas” was written and recorded by Bob Wire and Chip Whitson to be an antidote to all that hoary old crap that people just seem to keep re-recording.
    Self-promotion, I admit, but we’re trying to get this CD out there to people who truly are searching for some good quality, catchy new Christmas music.
    I invite you to take a listen at offwhitechristmas.com. Thanks, and let’s keep searching for fresh holiday songs!

  8. If you really want to know why there are no new Christmas songs, you should read an interview with Justin Wilde known as Mr. Christmas. He has been in the Christmas song publishing business for 15 years and is quite the authority on the subject. His interview can be found at goodnightkiss.com/justi.html and there is an hour long interview with him on a 7 part video entitled “Writing and Marketing Great Christmas Songs” on the internet.

  9. I’ve read some good comments that touch on ‘why are there no new Christmas songs?’ I think it’s very simple: Nobody wants them. There are cultural reasons and commercial reasons, to be sure, but why are these the reasons?

    I think it’s because of the public reality that the traditional things from our once shared Western heritage are no longer still important to the culture at large. The celebration of Christmas was often a reflection of a shared cultural heritage, and drew the particulars and participation of that celebration from the many Christian immigrants who came to the shores of the U.S.; IE: The Catholic church gave us the very word Christmas, from their ‘Christ Mass’. The Protestant Germans gave us the Christmas tree. The Scandinavians gave us the Yule log. The Anglican English gave us caroling and Christmas cards. Currier & Ives immortalized it all in print. The American descendants, distilled from all of them, gave us the shopping mall.

    Christmas is a religious holy day at its core, and in the United States, the faithful are free to observe and worship as they please. Over the centuries, the joy and beauty of the celebration did overlap into the secular arena, and was enjoyed by the culture at large, but in a pluralistic society, such as the United States, there is a malignant & virulent anti-theistic ideology pervasive within our modern, instant gratification society that is offensive at being offended and intolerant of intolerance. The tap root of this noxious anti-theistic weed is firmly entrenched in universities, spreading its seeds via credit hours, manifesting itself in the hive mind, utilizing ridicule and derision for protection, with woody tentacles stretching well into elementary schools; eventually choking out the tender fruit of the Spirit, and relegating the Christ child to the nether region of relativistic myth, separated by the state edict.

    In the new millennium, government is god; politics is theology; and moral turpitude is worship.

    There are no new Christmas songs because nobody wants them.

    Merry Christmas to all!

  10. As previously noted, there are indeed a handful of original songs that come out every year, but the last one I can think of that has become a “classic” (played year in and year out, covered by others) is Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” which came out in 1993. I think the culprit is the way radio has evolved from something where most people all heard the same music and therefore a song had a chance of becoming universally known. Starting in the 80′s radio became splintered into many differerent formats. Likewise TV, which is important in creating a mega hit song/standard started down the cable/satellite path to where there are a bazillion channels with a few people watching each. Perhaps it took a mono-culture to create Christmas “standards”. For that matter, any kind of music during the year.

  11. I’m amazed (and impressed) that this piece has garnered so many thoughtful and insightful comments. I’m also impressed that someone bothered to stop by and leave another one today, a good six months after I wrote the article. It wasn’t a particularly heavy topic or critical issue of our times (Christmas music – really?) so much as my first attempt to get something in front of the readers of Rotten Chestnuts.

    Thanks again to everyone who weighed-in, and I really mean that. Additional comments are welcome.

  12. I certainly agree with your post and I tried do something about it a couple of years ago by writing a brand new christmas song. The song has so far managed TV airplay in Australia and a little radio airplay in the UK. One station in the UK played it on three consecutive days in 2010 and received lots of very positive feedback from listeners via phone in and SMS but then inexplicably stopped playing it, I couldnt understand why and they weren’t forthcoming with a reason. One suspects that as it was a commercial radio station, the advertisers would not be too happy with the station playing a Christmas ‘nobody’. Whatever the reason, whilst it was being played, people loved it. Our home made video has thousands of views on youtube, judge for yourself if the song has potential to eventually muscle its way into the standards list.Thanks in advance for listening.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5eGJ9xocCQ

  13. My friends and I were just discussing this topic, which brought me here. I love Christmas music. That and the tree are my favorite parts of the holiday especially with all the over-the-top commercialism that now pervade’s this time of year. This situation (if it can be called that), however, may just be in the U.S. A friend of mine has lived all over the world, and he said many countries have new music written all the time, and the Holiday Music Chart is a big part of the season. I think this is one of the premises in Love Actually, which had the “hot” new holiday song in one of its stories. I suspect marketing is why we in the U.S. don’t get new Christmas music, and I find that fairly sad.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>