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The Power of Nostalgia: Why Do We Love Christmas Music so Much?

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Rutgers chapter.

On November 1st, many of us secretly listen to Christmas music to avoid slander from those who preach “Thanksgiving first!” Now that December has arrived, we can listen shamelessly! Christmas music brings us a sense of comfort and joy during a time when the sun is setting earlier, finals are quickly approaching, and seasonal depression is kicking in. Why do we listen to the same music every December (or November…), and why does it evoke feelings of warmth and magic? 

According to the Washington Post, the answer is nostalgia. If we grew up celebrating Christmas, we might associate the music with our elementary school holiday parties, making cookies, and watching our favorite Christmas movies by the fireplace. However, what makes the phenomenon of Christmas music so interesting is that of the 22 songs on Billboard’s Holiday 100 list, the majority were written before 1980 (Washington Post). Why does modern Christmas music not get the same love?

Because most famous Christmas songs were written during the childhoods of our parents and grandparents, songs like “White Christmas” and “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” have been played in homes for generations. Christmas music is so universal to our holiday experience that the nostalgia created by older Christmas songs is overpowering to all age groups. Despite modern Christmas covers and brand-new holiday songs, this music lacks the nostalgic factor that everyone yearns for during the holiday season.

Spotify’s “Christmas Hits” Playlist

Brian Rabinovitz, a lecturer at the College of William and Mary studies the neuroscience of music. He told the Washington Post that Christmas music simultaneously stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain and elicits memories, thus creating the warm and fuzzy feeling of nostalgia. One dominant theme of this music is the concept of home, as seen in “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and “(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays.” When we think of the holidays, we transport back to our childhood homes with our loved ones all around us; hearing the magical tunes of the season makes us feel safe and places us back in a time of innocence. 

To test the power of nostalgia, I asked 10 people under 55 from Rutgers University and the surrounding towns what their favorite Christmas songs are. I wanted to see what percentage of these songs predated 1980 in accordance with the Billboard Holiday 100 list. I was also interested to see if the generation gap affected their choices.

21 Baby, It’s Cold Outside (1944)
54 The Christmas Waltz (1957)
54 Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree (1958)
22 It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (1963)
46 Feliz Navidad (1970)
19 Last Christmas (1983)
20 Last Christmas (1983)
20 Mary, Did You Know? (1991)
22 December Will Be Magic Again (1983)
21 Sleigh Ride (1949)
Findings from Personal Survey

The results were that the power of nostalgia holds true! The majority of people asked to name their favorite Christmas song chose one from 1940 to 1980 including Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and Frank Sinatra’s “The Christmas Waltz.”

Shamelessly enjoy all the Christmas music you want this season with your family and friends!

Emily Ranieri

Rutgers '24

Emily is a senior majoring in Journalism and Media Studies. She loves reading, movies, art, and music.