Music expert says Christmas music not just limited to the season, and happiness it brings may be the reason

Dec 09, 2011 By Jana Fallin

(PhysOrg.com) -- If it seems the sounds of the season -- "Jingle Bells," "Deck the Halls," "Joy to the World" and other holiday favorites -- are being heard more and more out of season, a Kansas State University music expert says there's a reason.

Hearing Christmas music before December is becoming more common, and Jana Fallin, professor of music education at Kansas State, says there may be a deeper meaning behind this trend.

"As far as people's obsession with Christmas music, I think they just like that warm, happy, joyous feeling it brings," Fallin said. "Part of it is what we want the music to represent, because we want Christmas to be about family, full of love and all of those thoughts. I think people just want to be happy."

Fallin said the meaning found in Christmas music is linked to the brain's , which contains the amygdala, the location of , and the hippocampus, the area that consolidates memory.

"You know how you hear a song and you remember the person you were dancing with at the senior prom? It moves you around in time through those memories and emotions in the brain," she said. "All of that is going on with Christmas carols because it takes us back to our childhood. When we hear them, we remember gifts that we received as children or family members that are no longer with us."

In the 15th century, priests used Christmas carols to tell the story of the birth of Jesus because of the high levels of illiteracy at the time. Fallin said carols were simple and easy to sing, which helped people remember the aspects of the story.

Christmas music has since evolved into a holiday tradition. Fallin says the custom of carols consists of four categories: religious, secular, traditional and humorous. Religious tunes relay the story of Jesus' birth; secular music involves tales of Santa Claus and Christmas love stories; traditional songs include holiday classics such as "We Wish You a Merry Christmas"; and the humorous genre is represented in such songs as "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer."

This tradition of holiday music creates a sense of timelessness surrounding certain carols, but it can also make it difficult for artists to write new Christmas music, Fallin said.

"I think it is harder for more contemporary artists to get original Christmas songs to become a hit," she said. "Some of them are just so trite, so sometimes I don't like the new stuff, and sometimes I do. It's just kind of whatever speaks to you."

Fallin suggests people look up their favorite artist online if they are looking for Christmas music that differs from the mainstream. The singer or songwriter may have recorded several original songs in the holiday genre or created a unique version of a classic carol that may be enjoyable.

While Christmas music may be an obsession for some, or a tolerated tradition for others, Fallin says it's hard to deny that carols are a major component of the season.

"All celebrations have music -- weddings, funerals, graduations -- and we know through research that there has never been a culture that didn't have music, even early on," Fallin said. "So music helps us celebrate the traditions of our culture, and certainly Christmas does that. It helps us celebrate."

Explore further: Can science eliminate extreme poverty?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Christmas Carol Talk

Dec 22, 2009

Even without the lyrics, the tunes of some Christmas carols -- such as "Jingle Bells" or "Deck the Halls" -- sound uplifting. But the melodies of other songs like "We Three Kings" have a different, somber sound.

While shepherds watched their flocks on 'Ilkely Moor'

Dec 15, 2009

'While shepherds watched' was the first carol to cross over to the Church of England from the secular, folk tradition and carol singers might be surprised to hear that it used to be commonly sung to the tune 'Cranbrook', ...

Microsoft music player due by Christmas

Jul 06, 2006

Microsoft's planned unveiling of a handheld music-and-video player to rival Apple's iPod has raised interest among entertainment and technology analysts.

Sony Music back catalog comes to eMusic

Jun 01, 2009

Sony Music Entertainment and eMusic announced on Monday that songs from Sony's back catalog would be available later this year through the online music store.

Christmas surname subject of DNA research

Nov 24, 2005

Oxford University researchers in Britain want to use DNA testing to find out if those with the rare surname of "Christmas" all descend from a single male.

Recommended for you

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

3 hours ago

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

Apr 18, 2014

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.