At this point, you’ve probably hear Mariah Carey’s "All I Want for Christmas is You" enough times to last through next Christmas. It’s one of the most popular holiday songs of all time, and this isn’t by chance.
What is it that makes this song, along with all the other greats, so full of holiday spirit?
The smell of pine, the taste of peppermint, the look of lights strung on houses ... and of course, the sound of Christmas music. All of these things are key in getting into the Christmas spirit, and this is due to a process called "classical conditioning."
This is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when two stimuli are paired together, and become so closely associated that they begin to cause the same reactions despite not being originally related.
At first, only one of the stimuli may elicit a reaction, but once the second stimulus become associated enough with the other, then it, too, will elicit a response even when presented on its own.
In this case, Christmas itself is the first stimulus to cause an emotional reaction; in most cases, this reaction is happiness and excitement. The second stimuli, in this case the music, has become so closely related to this time of year that it has become one of the most effective methods of boosting Christmas spirit.
Even songs that don’t specifically mention Christmas play a part. Classical pieces such as Tchaikovsky "Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy" will leave you in higher holiday mood, despite not having any lyrics at all.
Some special chords
Christmas music seems to have the ability to transport you back into an era gone by. There is something so timeless about this style of music that even after several decades, the Top 10 list of most popular Christmas artists is still filled with singers like Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and Andy Williams, just to name a few.
"All I Want for Christmas is You" was released in 1994, a time where the influence of rock ’n’ roll dominated popular music. However, Carey took a different approach, and took her inspiration from a jazzier time period. Pre-1950s, popular music was most heavily influenced by jazz, which by nature contained a variety of chords. The use of these kinds of chords are what allowed Carey’s song to fit right in with the older classics.
If you listen closely to Irving Berlin’s "White Christmas," releases in 1942, many similarities between the two songs can be found.
Finally ... sleigh bells
According to "It’s a Wonderful Life," "Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings." This is just one example of the close association bells have with Christmas, and song writers certainly take advantage of this to convey that wintery feel.
However, bells were not always associated with Christmas. In fact, the song "Jingle Bells," originally written by James Lord Pierpont in 1875, was not intended to be a Christmas song at all, but has obviously come to be known as the epitome of Christmas songs.
Although the origin of bells is unclear, they were used in pagan religions to ward off bad spirits and bring good luck. Eventually, bells came to be used in churches to announce special events such as marriages and births. They became a symbol of happiness, and so people began to ring them in honor of Christmas, and utilize their pretty sound to give their Christmas music an extra touch of spirit.
Rachel Valente is a junior at Kenmore West High School.