“It’s all red and gold / and Nat King Cole / and tinsel on the tree,” croons Kacey Musgraves in “Christmas Makes Me Cry,” a track from her new album, “A Very Kacey Christmas.” The song paints a lovely picture of a festive Christmas atmosphere that inspires nostalgia and sadness in the singer. However, listeners might struggle to identify with Musgraves, not because of any shortcomings on her part, but because “A Very Kacey Christmas” was released on Oct. 28, almost a full two months before Christmas.
Musgraves is not the only artist to jumpstart the Christmas season this year. Sarah McLachlan, R. Kelly and others have also already released Christmas albums; others, including Garth Brooks and Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr., plan to drop their albums this Friday. Some radio stations have also gotten into the Christmas spirit already, playing 24/7 Christmas music even as some of us are still scrubbing off the most stubborn Halloween makeup.
Why does it feel like Christmas is starting earlier every year? The short answer is capitalism. Retailers stand to gain a lot from starting the Christmas season in October or November; Christmas, as we celebrate it now, is about gift-giving, and those gifts have to be bought. It’s a very lucrative season, so it makes sense that they would want to stretch it out as much as possible. Some have dubbed the phenomenon of starting the season earlier and earlier in the calendar each year the “Christmas creep.” A Salon article published earlier this week pointed out that while Nordstrom maintains their usual policy of not decorating their stores for Christmas until after Thanksgiving, their website’s “Holiday Gifts” section is already proudly covered with red, gold and tinsel. That’s not to mention Black Friday’s slow backwards march up the calendar; while some stores still plan to close for Thanksgiving this year, others, including Best Buy, plan to open as early as 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, certainly to the chagrin of their employees.
Between the recent album releases and the radio stations that are already starting to play holiday music, it’s clear that the Christmas creep has spread to the music industry as well. The early album releases are probably just a response to the rest of the retail world’s decision that the Christmas season now starts as soon as they can take down their Halloween decorations—it stands to reason that all the festivity might make someone more likely to buy a Christmas album, even if orange leaves litter the ground and everything is still flavored with pumpkin spice.
The question is whether or not consumers will ever get tired of it all. What happens when the Christmas season starts before Halloween? Will the endless think pieces complaining about how early the season starts outnumber the also-endless think pieces about how anyone who criticizes Christmas traditions is just a Grinch? Will anyone other than Adam Sandler acknowledge that Chanukah also exists, and in fact starts the night of December 24 this year? Only time will tell.
At any rate, the albums that came out this week were actually quite good, for the most part. “A Very Kacey Christmas” stands out as the best of the bunch; Kacey Musgraves’ vocal talent and clever songwriting shine just as much here as they do in her sweet, mildly subversive country albums. “Christmas Makes Me Cry” touches on the sadness that accompanies the holidays and everything that goes with them, from going home and “seeing Mom and Dad getting a little grayer” to the feeling that the holiday has become hollow, which is relevant in the light of the creep stretching the season thin. It’s one of the few good “sad Christmas” songs that isn’t about romance, which is refreshing, to say the least. Her covers are all artfully done; a favorite is “What are you doing New Year’s Eve,” where Musgraves’ country background comes through enough to flavor the song’s original jazzy composition, but not enough to destroy it.
Pentatonix’s “A Pentatonix Christmas” is also worth a listen. The acapella sensation have an excellent cover of Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah”—yeah, the one from the “Shrek” soundtrack—that doesn’t seem like it should work as a Christmas song, and yet somehow it does.
At any rate, buying a late-October-release Christmas album (or, let’s be honest, adding it on Spotify) will be a welcome respite from the very limited selection of old holiday music that we will all be subject to hearing on repeat for the next two months. Despite the frequency with which new Christmas albums come out, radio stations still tend to play the same tired decades-old holiday songs, rarely adding new songs to their rotation. What with the endless renditions of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” we’ll hear every day from now until February, new songs like “Christmas Makes Me Cry” are, above all else, a relief.