When Snow Turns to Slush: An Exam Soundtrack for Melting Down in Freezing Temperatures

River by Joni Mitchell (and covered by the incomparable Ben Platt in the new Netflix original; The Politician) raises some interesting questions. She croons: “It’s coming on Christmas, they’re cutting down trees, putting up reindeer, singing songs of joy and peace”.We then realize that Joni would not be your preferred Secret Santa: “I wish I had a river I could skate away on”. For the rest of the song, she mourns the loss of a relationship. The question becomes: Is this a Christmas song? Is it a song with a disproportionate jolly to whiny ratio worthy of a spot on your Christmas playlist? 

The Queen’s University exam season chugs right along until December 18th. Therefore, 58% of the month where it is, indeed, “coming on Christmas,'' affords few opportunities to roast chestnuts on an open fire. So, let’s cut Joni and her negative attitude some slack. There’s more to Christmas than the bright visions of Jingle Bells. There are also Scantron cards.  While everywhere around us exudes peppermint hot chocolate and rampant consumerism and Michael Bublé’s uncomfortable rendition of Santa Baby, we are all held hostage on campus, living in the symbolic moment when snow turns to slush.  Despite this bleak midwinter, I don’t think there’s any reason to condemn oneself to another playlist of Lo-Fi Beats to Study To. Here’s an exam soundtrack for when it is, however inconveniently, “coming on Christmas”. When you are melting down despite everything around you freezing. Christmas and crisis: you can have it all.

  1. 1. Wintersong by Sarah McLachlan

    Sarah and Joni are riding a similarly frozen wave, with this parallel fascination with the moment where water freezes. Here, Sarah invokes the water cycle to metaphorically capture the depth of her longing for someone only around in nature’s melancholy reminders. There’s a lot to unpack here, but one thing is for certain: it is Christmas and Sarah is straight-up not having a good time right now.

  2. 2. Last Christmas by Wham!

    There comes a moment in any exam crisis when all you have left to do is a complete cataloging of every single time you have ever been hurt. This classic anticipates a dreary glance out a foggy window, contemplating the one (percent away from an A-) that got away. 

  3. 3. Blue Christmas by Elvis Presley

    This song sounds like the melted butter you are currently not eating on a roll at Christmas dinner, as you are, instead, writing a final. You are metaphorically, and also, perhaps, literally blue, if your housemates, like mine, don’t believe in turning on the heat until the pipes freeze.

  4. 4. Snow in California by Ariana Grande

    Here, Ariana writes something of a grownup Christmas list, begging Santa for weather conditions typically out of character for the sunshine state. The girl has an uncanny ability to make the whole “writing a letter to Santa in a desperate plea for accommodations” thing sound mysterious and sultry. Snow in California is an aesthetic heightening of the shameful moment when all you have left to do is say please. 

  5. 5. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky 

    There is nothing more dramatic than classical music. There is something about the creeping (xylophone?) “pings!” that feels like a timer counting down. It’s anticipatory. Stressful. It’s a looming deadline. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is a thematic gesturing towards your colossus of neglected obligation. How’s that for setting the mood? 

  6. 6. We Need A Little Christmas by the Glee! Cast

    As the Glee Cast chirps in their characteristic hyper-positivity that, in their current state of misery, they “need a little Christmas”, I think we can reflect that, just maybe, we too have: “grown a little leaner, grown a little colder, grown a little sadder, grown a little older”. And, only then, might we be compelled to remember the dim but persistent star, glowing on the top of the sad, plastic, desk-top Christmas tree. The Glee cast’s festive call to arms to defend against the clutches of Ebenezer perhaps offer a warm hug on a cold day. Therein lies the not-quite-out-of-reach hope that springs eternal: for the promise of the final final; for the tidings of comfort and joy offered by your hometown family room; for the other 42%.