Every year, somewhere around Thanksgiving, I make a “Christmas Music” playlist that becomes my playlist for the season. It changes a lot, songs get added and removed, but for the most part there’s a few songs that stay on it the whole time. It’s all I listen to from the day I make it until a few days after Christmas. I dance to it when I’m walking around, and do this strange wiggle in my chair when I’m sitting down.
The funny thing is, I used to hate Christmas music. Absolutely hate it. When I was in high school, my math teacher would play music, and I tried to propose a rule that he couldn’t play Christmas music until after December 10th. The other students kind of laughed it off, and he just played whatever the hell he wanted to anyways, but I always hated it. I’m not even sure why, it just drove me nuts. If I had to be honest about it, it was probably just me trying to be all “anti-commerical” or some bullshit, but I became pretty convinced of my own act if that’s what it was. I stayed that way, up until I was 20.
In October of 2008, I moved from Michigan to Louisiana. Before I moved, I had a brief falling out with my grandpa. It wasn’t even so much a ‘falling out.’ He was disappointed in me for something, and I was mad that he was “judging” me. So, I left without saying goodbye to him. Partially because I didn’t want to hear whatever he had to say, but also because I was mad at him. On Novermber 15th, I was moving into my new apartment when I got the phone call from my dad, telling me that my grandpa had died.
My grandpa and I had been really close my entire life. He and my grandma bought a cottage on a lake at some point when they first started getting grandkids, so I spent every weekend during the summers with the extended members of my family. Grandpa and grandma were always there, and gramps would often take us out to go fishing, or just for a ride around the lake. He was probably the best grandpa a kid could have. After my grandma died, he and I got even more close, and I spent a lot of time over at his place hanging out with him after school. I was going through a rough time during that time, and I see now that he was really worried about me, but at the time I interpreted it as him being overly old and conservative. Still, I did my best to spend time with him often, even after graduated. He was probably one of my favorite people in the world. His death was pretty hard for me. I didn’t really show it at the time, but I was really furious at myself for being so petty that I couldn’t say goodbye before I left. For being such a coward that I couldn’t face whatever disapproving words he’d have for me. I’m still kind of furious with myself.
When I became an atheist, that feeling intensified a bit, actually. Because I realized I don’t have another chance. I messed up my one shot at saying goodbye to one of the most important people in my life.
A few people have asked me why it is that I love Christmas so much, when I’m an atheist. No matter how you slice it, Christmas is based almost entirely on traditions surrounding the worship of gods I don’t believe in. I admit it’s a bit of a paradox, but the truth is really simple. My grandpa loved Christmas music.
When he retired, he and my grandma bought an electric baby grand piano. One of his favorite things to do was play music on that piano with the grandkids around. Christmas music was probably his favorite thing to play. Several of the girls in our family sang, and some of us played instruments, and he’d often sit and play along with us for hours. During Christmas seasons, whenever I’d go over there he’d want to sit down and sing Christmas carols with me. His absolute favorite was “White Christmas.” He would sit and play along with the pre-recorded versions that came on little disks you could put into the piano. He’d never even actually learned to play the piano, as far as I know, but that didn’t matter. He loved to play, and he loved it when his grandkids would sit play or sing along.
He died right around the time that malls, airports, restaurants and just about everything else start playing Christmas music. The whole way home to Michigan for his funeral, I was furious, because not only did I hate Christmas music, but it reminded me of Grandpa. That didn’t last long though. Eventually, every time I’d hear a Christmas song, I’d find myself thinking about all the really good times my whole family had while Grandpa was around. Since I had moved, and went back home right after the funeral, I felt a bit isolated in my grieving, because I wasn’t near anyone in the family. Christmas music became a way for me to have all those “remember when” moments that families normally share with each other.
Eventually I grew up and stopped caring so much about why people play Christmas music, and the commercialism of Christmas altogether, and just allowed myself to enjoy it. Christmas is a lot of fun. You get to do things like cook large meals for people you care about, and make people happy by giving them cool gifts, and spend time with people you enjoy. Who gives a shit if the reason you’re doing it has nothing to do with any religious tradition?
Plus, Christmas music is actually kind of good.