December 10, 2006

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Am I the only one who hates the Christmas music piped in everywhere this time of the year? It's supposed to be bad not to be in the "Christmas spirit," but if "Christmas spirit" means enjoying the music that permeates every commercial establishment, then I must politely say a Dickensian "Bah! Humbug!" (whatever that means). The Christmas music is ubiquitous. It is insidious. And I would say that it is pernicious, and any other bad word ending in "ous."

This is the first Christmas I can remember that I have had such a negative reaction to Christmas music, and I am trying to figure out why. My first response was that the Christmas music is manipulative, and I don't like being manipulated. Stores play their Christmas music at a certain volume, just above audible, in order to put us in a certain mood, or to evoke certain special memories, so that we ... buy more stuff. Any retailers out there, can you back me up on this? I really don't think I'm being part of the aluminum foil hat crowd here.

The second possibility why I'm hating on the Christmas music is that I am not Christian. It is said that Christmas is a difficult time for non-Christians, who are reminded that they are different. It doesn't help when one is bombarded with songs proclaiming "Christ is Lord" while looking for shelves in Target. However, this has been the case my whole life, and thus does not explain why I am reacting so negatively this year.

The third possible reason for not liking the Christmas music is that this is my first Christmas in Southern California, and it is damn weird to be walking around in shorts and a t-shirt in December, while bathing-suited Santas cruise by on Rollerblades. But this still does not explain why I don't like the Christmas music -- I could just as easily be enthralled and amused by the whole scene.

There is a fourth possibility, and I think it is the most likely one. What set me off the other day was when I went to a local It's a Grind coffee shop that likes to think of itself as the anti-Starbucks. They have cozy furniture, free WiFi, friendly sales staff, and one does not have to speak cutesy Italian to order coffee there. But while I was there, every other song being played was a Christmas song. When I complained to the staff, they were sympathetic and even agreed with me, but they said that the music is programmed by "corporate," and that they are not allowed to alter it. When I hopped on the It's a Grind web site to tell them by email that I expect this atmosphere at Starbucks, not at un-Starbucks, I saw that that they advertise themselves as the "Fastest growing coffee house franchise in U.S.!"

And that is, I think, the crux, no pun intended, of my complaint against the Christmas music. It is a mindless bureaucratic mindset that has pervaded even smaller, up-and-coming companies, that says, let's do this because everyone else does it, and it is the way things have been done for a long while. In other words, let's "stay the course." It is the same mindset, I believe, that allowed slavery and institutional racism to exist in this country for so long. It is the same mindset that has gotten us bogged down in Iraq.

Now, I know it's a long way from Christmas music to Iraq. But perhaps it is not so far if one follows the bright star shining in the east, to lay gifts before the King pa rum pum pum pum.


At 4:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

me too.

At 4:54 PM, Blogger Aileen said...

Interesting. I hate the piped in Christmas music too...But it's because I hate muzak versions of any kind of music. I like the actual Christmas songs when they are song by talented artists. And one of my favorite's is the old "Feed the World" song. But...I think it's because the songs evoke wonderful childhood memories. I am no longer a Christian and not thrilled by the messages forced on everyone. But perhaps one of the reasons the music is particularly annoying you is for the same "memory evoking" reasons? At a time when you are redefining your definition of "home".


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