What Makes a Holiday Song a Hit

Cole Tessitore, Staff Writer

   After Thanksgiving, the end of the year is quickly ushered in by the peak of the holiday season. December is taken over by Christmas, Hanukkah, gifts, and of course, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas”. Starting even before December rolls around, singers capitalize on the unquenchable thirst for holiday music by releasing albums and EPs. Anyone with a radio or within an earshot of music during December knows the classics like “Last Christmas” by Wham! “Santa Baby” by Madonna, or even a more contemporary hit like “Santa Tell Me” by Ariana Grande. But what exactly makes those songs stand up among the rest? And more importantly, how is it that multiple singers can do the same song but people still never can seem to get enough of it?

   Christmas music dates back to the fourteenth century, when most of it was heavily influenced by religion and was mostly in Latin, according to the BBC. The modern holiday music we know and love can be pinpointed to the 1940s, when songs such as “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “White Christmas” were released. Fast track to the 1950s and 1960s, when rock music and more contemporary sounds were incorporated into the sounds of holiday songs, like “Rockin’ Around the Christma Tree” by Brenda Lee. A clear trend can be seen with holiday music, where a song’s sound, vocals, and even tempo can be attributed to the decade of which it was released. For instance, Run-D.M.C.’s “Christmas in Hollis” matches the late 1980s sound of early hip-hop and rap, or Britney Spears’s “My Only Wish (This Year)”  sounds like almost every other early 2000s generic pop song (bbc.com). 

   However, not every holiday song can be a hit. Maroon 5’s rendition of John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas (War is Over)” doesn’t seem to top anyone’s list of holiday music favorites. Adam Levine’s falsetto voice is already polarizing enough; it doesn’t exactly help that the song’s tempo is slow compared to other holiday contemporary hits. Infamously, Lady Gaga released “Christmas Tree” during the height of her The Fame era. The song features the classic sleazy club synthesizer sounds she is known for, but paired with even sleazier Christmas double entendres that are cheeky enough to land Gaga on the naughty list. 

   Although not every holiday song can be a hit, there are enough famous seasonal tunes that get redone every year when singers do their own rendition. Pretty much every time “Santa Baby” is played on the radio or in a department store, it’s either Madonna’s or Kylie Minogue’s version. Not many people know Eartha Kitt actually was the first to record and release the song back in 1953 (bbc.com). Similarly, “Do You Hear What I Hear” was written and sung by the Harry Simeone Chorale, which is the same group that popularized “Little Drummer Boy,” but most people today are familiar with Whitney Houston or Carrie Underwood’s rendition of “Do You Hear What I Hear”.

   Senior Honieh Hemati enjoys the less popular versions of holiday songs. “I like the typical songs like the Mariah Carey one, but my favorite songs are the instrumental versions,” admits Hemati. “Right now I am going through a rock phase, so I’m really enjoying the Trans-Serbian Orchestra version of ‘Carol of the Bells’.” In contrast, Senior Mika Asiag notes that she likes the contemporary pop classics. “I really like ‘Last Christmas’ by Wham! I think the song is fun and really nostalgic,” expressed Asiag. 

   The holidays are about enjoying time with loved ones, and more importantly to singers, listening to the hundredth variation of “Let It Snow” or “Silent Night” this December. Even if churning out the same holiday music every year for profit counteracts the true meaning of the holidays, it’s still fun to listen to and it gets people into the happy, holiday spirit.