[On]Point to Ponder: The Stories Inside Christmas Songs


Throughout the year, there are countless articles on the importance of good storytelling. As we near Christmas, have you ever stopped to think about the stories we hear during the holiday season – the ones that come right through our radios (or iheart, Pandora, or Amazon Prime apps)?

I find Christmas music fascinating. Every year, I look forward to hearing this genre of music, nearly non-stop. I am particularly fond of the original version of these songs versus the re-recorded, “new” versions of today. And recently, I’ve begun to wonder why.

What do the songs of old have that their re-makes do not? What’s behind these songs and stories, anyway? It comes down to two themes; the music stirs up stories of the past, and it shines a light on a reality we often hold only in our imaginations. In short, it’s superb storytelling.

You know the names: Karen Carpenter. Bing Crosby. Brenda Lee. Dean Martin. And you know the songs: Baby It’s Cold Outside. Home For the Holidays. Let it Snow. Mary’s Boy Child. Feliz Navidad. I Want a Hippopatomus for Christmas. You know the movies these songs remind you of, too: It’s a Wonderful Life. Miracle on 34th Street. Elf. Home Alone. When Harry Met Sally. Scrooge.  Did you know that many of our favorite carols – if they weren’t composed by 18th or 19th century poets or songwriters to add depth to religious celebrations – were written as “tracks” for movies in the post-war era? They were part of a greater “story.”  We don’t really watch those old movies anymore…so why haven’t we stopped playing those songs of old at Christmas? After all, we have new versions by Mariah Carey and Taylor Swift. Why don’t we just play those on repeat?

  1. Classic Christmas music conjures up the past.

Listening to Christmas music has the power to transport us in a way most musical genres cannot. Especially when those “oldies but goodies” come along (Bing Crosby’s White Christmas), we are brought back to the days the songs were recorded and the ways people lived back then (real or imagined). It was a post-war era. Family was as central as ever. Everyone seemed happier. Less worried. Children listened…to hear sleigh bells in the snow. A feeling of peace and harmony seemed to filled homes, cities and societies in a way that wasn’t possible during the war years. Was life as perfect as these songs seem to say? Of course not. But that’s the beauty of the Christmas music of that day. It sought to portray a world at peace. It succeeded so well, that we dust off those albums every year and listen once again. The hunger we have for such a world – whether it really was that way or not – will never die. We will always desire the images these songs portray, the feelings they conjure up and the relationships the characters have with one another.

2. Old Christmas music ignites our imaginations.

There are timeless stories inside each song of old; beautiful tapestries of images that may as well live inside a snow globe that sits upon a shelf, or amongst the miniature Hallmark towns that adorn our foyer tables for a few weeks a year. The stories these songs tell are of picture perfect cold, snowy nights when time seems to stands still and there’s not a worry in sight (“Oh the weather outside is frightful!”). We see Norman Rockwell scenes of small, downtown stores where shoppers browse in tall black hats and stroll beneath streetlamps with fuzzy hand warmers (“take a look at the 5 and 10…glistening once again”). We’re even invited into the innocence of a first date, one that’s overflowing with respectful flirting and the simple convincing of a boy whose smitten (“Well maybe just a cigarette more?”). Our minds envision impromptu gatherings of Christmas carolers who walked from house to house, perhaps carrying candles that allow them to see the way. We see or recall beautiful towns where each street is lit end to end with luminaries, lighting the way for the gift of Christmas morning.  We know these characters because we hear their stories every year. They are respectable, generous and cheerful (save the Grinch, of course, who becomes exceedingly likeable by the end).

These songs may remind us of our grandparents or parents. Of time with friends. Of movies we love. Of a world without hatred and pain. And they are some of the best storytelling we have in recent history. Once a year, for a few weeks a year, these songs take us into picturesque, utopian scenes – scenes that reflect peace, resolution, joy, generosity and thanksgiving.

Stories draw us in. They bring emotion to the forefront. They invite us into another experience – one that’s not necessarily our own. They are incredibly persuasive tools, which is why storytelling in public speaking and company branding will always be critical. But one cannot hurry through a story, nor create it quickly. To have maximum impact, the storyteller must immerse him or herself into the story too. Christmas songs, by virtue of the musical tones, notes and rhythms, offer an additional layer of storytelling that we cannot achieve on our own. That’s partly why they are so powerful. Stories are timeless. They have existed for as long as we can imagine, and always will.

Enjoy the stories of the season that play through your radio. Enjoy them with your family, your spouse, your wide-eyed children.  Wishing you a Merry Christmas, a happy holiday season, and a wonderful New Year!

Cindy Skalicky, is the owner of On Point Communications, LLC. She coaches speakers on storytelling techniques, content development for keynotes and investment pitches, presentation presence, and more. Master the Message. On Point now offers Virtual Coaching. To learn more, contact Cindy at: info@onpoint-communications.com


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