Tears and Tinsel: 9 Thoroughly Modern Holiday Songs

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The holidays are that special time of year when old lovers re-emerge, flaring up like cold sores during a first date; it’s when we, shattered by the reality of having accomplished very little throughout the year, drown our anxieties in buckets of wine and platters of chocolate and prosciutto; it’s when we dwell on harsh, undeniable truths and ask ourselves poignant questions like, “Am I going to be alone forever?” and “Will everyone think ill of me if I cram one more custard tart into my eat-hole?” And amid this Titanic-esque mad dash to the end of the year, festive pop music that could mitigate all this stress too often only exacerbates it. So, below, we take a look at a few modern holiday confections that actually put us in the mood to celebrate. In an era of global warming and fiscal uncertainty, these are the kind of ditties that more accurately evoke the 21st-century holiday season than traditional tunes like “Jingle Bells,” “Deck the Halls,” or even an old Bing Crosby standard.

The Waitresses – “Christmas Wrapping”

We live in an age when, despite being so ridiculously connected to one another — through social media, email, text messages — more of us are isolated than ever before, and chance brushes with brilliant people rarely ever blossom into fully realized relationships. This is why “Christmas Wrapping” is one of the most perfect holiday tunes for this era. At the end of a year, we don’t need shinier toys or another round of candy, but rather human connections that offer us some closure. Quote the Waitresses: “The perfect gift for me would be / Completions and connections left from / Last year.”

Dragonette – “Merry Xmas (Says Your Text Message)”

Entirely unplanned, then, is how perfectly Dragonette’s holiday track complements “Christmas Wrapping,” using the holidays as a stage to showcase another way in which humans can suck at communicating.

“Merry Xmas,” says your text message “Merry Xmas,” says your text message But you’re late by a day or two So mine says, “Thanks a lot and fuck you”

The diss here is threefold: 1. The composer of the message can’t be bothered to spell out “Christmas”; 2. the composer of the message sent it via text (rather than a call or even a holiday card — which still exist!); and 3. the composer of this message has troubles with punctuality. Again, while the cosmic flare-up of old flames can get us down during the holidays, it’s up to us to be able to say, “Thanks a lot and fuck you” — five words that can cancel out any diss and set the stage for a smooth transition into the new year.

Kate Bush – “December Will Be Magic Again”

The first snowfall of winter is a curious event. Frozen water floats down onto the earth, evoking a flood of holiday-colored memories among most of us. Kate Bush figured this out sometime ago with “December Will Be Magic Again.” In her tune, snow is shorthand for the holiday experience, which includes tropes like St. Nicholas, Bing Crosby, mistletoe, “Silent Night,” and even Oscar Wilde. While December may not necessarily be magic for future generations — thanks to the hastening course of climate change! — it remains yet another window through which most of us can look back on holidays past.

Heidi Klum – “Wonderland”

For those among you who have wondered, “What would a pop song by Project Runway host and Seal ex-wife Heidi Klum sound like?,” well, this milquetoast mash-up of holiday tropes is it. Klum and the committee that put this tune together have successfully distilled into sound what it feels like to go shopping at a mall during the holidays. Which means that, whether you find it abhorrent or passable as a guilty pleasure — I’m in the latter camp! — it is a triumph of consumerism.

Wham! – “Last Christmas”

Okay, look. It’s just not going to happen that magically you’ll fall in love on Christmas Day. That is an asinine thing to believe, and I would begrudge George Michael for perpetuating such a myth if it weren’t for the fact that he learned, by way of a Boxing Day heartbreak, to be more discerning about falling in love. But the universal message in Wham!’s cloying ballad is that after you get your heart broken once, you’ll probably end up choosier with who you give your heart to next. It’s the kind of personal growth that New Year’s resolutions are all about.

Aimee Mann – “I Was Thinking I Could Clean Up for Christmas”

Aimee Mann didn’t exactly set out to create a standard holiday jingle either; this song works whether you listen to it in December or in June. It’s bittersweet but possesses that one thing that seems to get lost among the tinsel and glitter of the season: blunt honesty. It’s been kind of a shitty several years for Americans, and if we put aside our gingerbread-scented holiday romanticism, it lets more people actually relax in the days off they get at the end of the year.

HURTS – “All I Want For Christmas Is New Year’s Day”

Whether you’re touring the Christmas light displays through the suburbs or flocking to Rockefeller Center, you might already be over all of it: The lights, the overindulgence, the superficial displays of goodwill — why don’t more of us do food drives year-round instead of just during the holidays? And instead you might be banking on January 1, 2013 to be the start of a new year where you get to claim a clean slate, forgive everyone for their boneheadedness from the previous year, and try to become a better person. HURTS might be onto something in wanting New Year’s Day as a Christmas present.

Mariah Carey – “Oh Santa” and “All I Want For Christmas Is You”

Lightning doesn’t strike twice, which is why Mariah Carey might just be a sorceress. A decade after releasing her anthem “All I Want for Christmas Is You” — now essential to any holiday canon — she issued “Oh Santa,” which managed to invoke that song’s same buzz of seasonal joy. Both of these tracks do something that few jingles are able to do on such a large scale: build a bridge for so many people back to their childhoods. For those of us who grew up with Mariah Carey — whether through her “Dreamlover” years or her “Heartbreaker” years — this means a chance to romanticize that moment in our lives when we didn’t have to worry about the world coming apart at the seams, because we didn’t know any better. Think of it as the holiday version of teenage magic. That truly is what the holidays are: an annual last chance to take a break from reality before diving back in and making a game plan to come back bigger and better than ever.