The real reason you love listening to sad Christmas songs

Christmas songs can be pretty sad, or at least about sad occurrences. Here's why you like them anyway.
Dec 18, 2015

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  • It's almost Christmas, and you may find yourself standing in line, trying to grab that last gift or two.

  • And then the song "The Christmas Shoes" plays over the loudspeaker.

  • The song's lyrics reference a young poor boy's desire to buy his dying mother a pair of shoes she's always wanted.

  • "And I know these shoes would make her smile," the boy sings. "And I want her to look beautiful, if mama meets Jesus tonight."

  • It's a sad song, no doubt. And yet it's widely popular. So popular, in fact, that it inspired a 2002 TV movie and surged to the top of the Billboard charts after its release in 2000.

  • To Inverse's Yasmin Tayag, it's a little odd that sad Christmas songs, like "The Christmas Shoes," receive such attention since they play during "the season to be jolly." But research shows sad Christmas songs can help people deal with their sad emotions.

  • In a research paper from earlier this year, University of Southern California's Matthew Sachs explained to Inverse that the Christmas season is often littered with sad emotions — "reflection, nostalgia and, for some, seasonal affective disorder," Tayag wrote. So sad holiday songs, like "Christmas Shoes" or even "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" — a song about a reindeer that's constantly insulted — help people work through their sad emotions.

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  • But how you specifically deal with Christmas songs and sadness depends on your personality, Sachs told Inverse. If you're one to prolong sadness, you'll revel in a sad Christmas song and enjoy it for what it is. Those who want to get rid of their emotions quickly, though, will binge-listen to sad Christmas music and use it for catharsis, Inverse reported.

  • "It's generally accepted that there are several reasons why sadness, when expressed through art, can be enjoyable," Sachs told Inverse. "If you're the kind of person who listens to sad music during the holidays, you're more likely to be an empathic person, but more generally you get some kind of psychological benefit from sadness."

  • Christmas music isn't always helpful, though, especially when it's played too often and pinches a nerve with listeners, NBC News reported. Researchers say that too much Christmas music often leaves people annoyed with the repetition of Rudolph carols. Some may even feel bored from too many holiday songs, NBC News reported

  • "Anyone who has worked in a Christmas store over the holidays will know what I'm talking about," Victoria Williamson told NBC News.

  • But these songs also help people in ways other than just getting over their emotions.

  • For example, believers also embrace the song "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" because, despite its darker undertones, it spreads positivity during the holiday season, The Atlantic's Emma Green reported.

  • The song highlights Jesus' birth and excitedly praises the Savior for his ability to save the world from Satan's wrath and all evil, Green wrote — a surely positive note for Christian believers.

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  • "It's a carol about the high spiritual stakes of Christmas — after all, if not for the birth of Jesus, Christians believe, humanity would be lost," Green wrote.

  • Christmas songs can also help in less spiritual ways, too. As Tiana Bohner of WCYB reported, some seniors with Alzheimer's recalled Christmas memories upon hearing Christmas songs.

  • Erin Batkiewicz, a music therapy expert, called Christmas songs a helpful form of therapy for those seniors, WCYB reported.

  • "The brain has it organized through rhythm and melody, so it's helping them remember different aspects of their life," she told WCYB. "Because holiday music is so familiar, you've grown up listening to it — that's going to calm their breathing, their heart rate, their blood pressure."

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Herb Scribner is a writer for Deseret Digital Media.

Website: https://twitter.com/HerbScribner

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