‘Tis the season of giving and eating and of course… Christmas songs! When I stumbled upon the ASCAP’s list of the Top 30 Holidays Songs of the Century, I knew I had found my data set for this month’s blog post. It’s pretty awesome when blasting Christmas music = doing research for a blog. At one point my husband and I started speaking to each other in song lyrics, so I had to tone it down a bit on the Christmas music even though it’s the most wonderful [thing to listen to] of the year.
I decided to start by looking at when the top Christmas songs were written. It turns out that nearly two-thirds of them first came out in the 1940’s and 1950’s. When artists today release Christmas albums, it’s pretty much expected that they’ll include covers of songs from this time period.
It made me wonder, what’s the reason that classic Christmas songs are so much more memorable than newer Christmas songs? I decided to group the songs by theme and see if any patterns emerged.
I found that certain themes such as describing “Christmas in the Air” and wishing people “Merry Christmas” via song are timeless, while others seemed to evolve. For example, songs about “Being Together in the Cold” and being “Home” for the holidays were written up until the mid-1950’s when they switched over to songs about having fun and “Partying” at Christmastime.
One of my favorite trends was the transition from songs about Santa (“Santa Claus is Coming to Town” & “Here Comes Santa Claus”) in the 1930’s and 1940’s to songs about Santa being in love (“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” & “Santa Baby”) in the 1950’s to songs straight up about love in the 1970’s and beyond (“Last Christmas” & “All I Want For Christmas Is You”).
When you look at the use of the word “Christmas” in songs over the past few decades, you see that every one of the top songs since 1963 has the word “Christmas” in it. It’s almost as if the word “Christmas” is put in a song just for the sake of telling you that it’s a Christmas song.
Take “Last Christmas” for example:
Last Christmas, I gave you my heart
But the very next day, you gave it away
This year, to save me from tears
I’ll give it to someone special
If you remove the word “Christmas” from the lyrics, the song actually has nothing to do with Christmas at all. It is simply a love song.
This made me wonder if Christmas songs have had less substance over time as well. After doing some digging, I found that there is no significant correlation between the year a song is written and the complexity of the song. It’s still fun to look at the vocabulary size of songs though, regardless of year. Here I’ve listed the top and bottom 5 songs in terms of the number of unique words.
“All I Want For Christmas Is You” has the most words and uses the most Christmas references of them all, which I guess is why the song feels extra Christmas-y (along with the choir and bells in the background). I also found it pretty humorous that “Feliz Navidad” has the smallest vocabulary of any Christmas song. It uses only 24 words over the course of 3:02 minutes.
Overall, we see that Christmas songs have evolved over time, from songs about fictional characters and being home for the holidays to ones about celebrating with friends and hoping to get your love interest for Christmas. While some might be concerned with the changes, I actually think it’s pretty impressive that the classic songs have prevailed. It shows that they are beautifully written and capture the spirit of the season better than any songs can do today. When else can you get kids from 1 to 92 all singing along to the same tunes? That’s the magic of Christmas songs.
Happy holidays, everyone!