Some people dislike December because they hate hearing Christmas music everywhere they go. I am not one of those people. Christmas music is one of the few things that makes the cold, finals and the lack of sunlight bearable.
There are the classics, the ones that your parents and grandparents grew up singing along to. Nat King Cole’s rendition of “Silent Night,” Bing Crosby and David Bowie singing “Little Drummer Boy” and Barenaked Ladies’ “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” are all near the top of my ideal Christmas playlist.
Then there are the pop carols — NSYNC’s “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays,” Justin Bieber’s “Mistletoe,” Band Aid’s oddly racist “Do They Know It’s Christmas.” Most are forgettable. But one of these newer attempts is, in fact, a near perfect Christmas song. Released 19 years ago, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is that song. It’s pretty trendy to complain about this song, so I think it’s necessary to defend its honor this and every holiday season.
Other declarations of love are more subtle, quiet and safe, but Mariah doesn’t want subtle or quiet or safe. The love Mariah feels is bursting at the seams and there’s nothing she can do but belt a high A about it. There’s something liberating about how happy this song is. Mariah’s affections may be unrequited, but she’s not going to let that stop her. Her earnest devotion is probably part of the reason why people think they don’t like it. Her openness and unabashed emotion make them uncomfortable in a culture where we’re supposed to hide our feelings all the time. Mariah’s not hiding anything.
Here’s the truth: at Christmas, no one wants to be alone. Christmas, more than any other holiday, including Valentine’s Day, is about love. From a theological perspective, it’s John 3:16: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that who so believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life.” That’s the greatest love of all. But even secularly, gifts are bought, cards are exchanged and families and friends gather round all because of love. In the midst of the cold and darkness and finals, we come together to remember what’s really important: each other and the love we share.
Yes, this is a little schmaltzy, but Christmas is the one time of the year when it’s OK to be schmaltzy — have you seen Love Actually?The theme of that movie is “Love actually is all around, but it’s especially all around at Christmas.” That’s a theme I can get behind.
But when you’re surrounded by so much schmaltz and you’re single, it’s a little less merry and bright. Which brings me back to Mariah’s song. Almost every Christmas since middle school, I have earnestly sang along because her words resonate. I don’t care about the presents underneath the Christmas tree. I just want you for my own, more than you could ever know. All I want for Christmas is you.
I want to cuddle on the couch and watch those weird stop motion movies while drinking hot chocolate. I want to go ice-skating. I want to go to the National Christmas tree together and buy cheesy presents for each other and eat too much candy. I’ll do all these things with my friends in the next few weeks, but wouldn’t it be nicer to do them with you too?
If this column were part of one of the vignettes in Love Actually, this paragraph would identify who that “you” is, but that’s sort of irrelevant at the moment. The magic of the song is that everyone has a “you.” After all, if the song only resonated with a few people, it wouldn’t be so popular. But many singers have recorded their own, inferior versions because it speaks to all of us. (Michael Bublé’sis the only one worth a listen.)
Maybe it’s someone you have a crush on, maybe it’s your long-distance girlfriend or maybe it’s your college boyfriend who you won’t be seeing on Christmas Day. It might be a little needy or selfish, but we all just want love for Christmas. Mariah’s right — no amount of gifts could ever change this human desire.
In general, I think American culture places too strong of an emphasis on romantic love as the most or only relationship we can have and that we don’t value our platonic bonds enough. So I don’t mean to suggest that the platonic friendships I will celebrate all month long aren’t as important as a hypothetical relationship with a hypothetical boyfriend. After all, my favorite plot in Love Actually is about the friendship between an aging rock star and his manager. The love I have for my friends is important and life sustaining and wonderful. But sometimes, when the mistletoe comes out, and the couples cuddle and I’m left with visions of unrequited love dancing in my head, it’s good to know Mariah’s got my back with the song I’ll be singing in the shower all month long.