The holiday season has already started, and Christmas is almost upon us. With it, radio stations, streaming play lists, and retail establishments have been broadcasting familiar holiday songs and music. Many adults find that their most favorites are connected to some kind of memory of a Christmas past. Through classical conditioning, they experience a phenomenon known as the reminiscence bump. Science aside, there is a magical quality about holiday music, whether its secular or sacred. There is a reason that these holiday tunes are so cherished, and it provides a great tool for teaching in an early childhood music studio setting.
- Many Songs are Simple Melodies – Parents, family, and caregivers know that infants recognize the melody of a song long before they understand the words. The simpler the melodies, the faster infants will absorb them. Some of the most memorable and repeated traditional childhood songs are often the simplest, such as “Twinkle, twinkle, Little Star,” and “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” The same rings true for holiday music. Jingle Bells, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and Frosty the Snowman are just a few of the many examples of simple melodies in traditional holiday songs. Many providers of early childhood music curricula use traditional music for this very reason, among others.
- Easy for Everyone to Sing – Simple melodies often mean simple range, and holiday music is no exception. With a few omissions (who of us can hit the high notes on O Holy Night!), many of the traditional holiday songs can be easily sung by parents, grandparents, and caregivers. This also makes it easy for smaller children to sing along. Holiday music also lends for very simple rhythmic instruments, such as sleigh bells and drums.
- Repetition Helps Learning – Aristotle is credited with saying “it is frequent repetition that produces a natural tendency.” Throughout history, leaders, teachers, parents, and even marketers have known that repetition is key to learning, specifically the practice of spaced repetition. Holiday music, because it is so widely played throughout the season, provides the perfect support for this learning technique. A child may hear their mother sing Silent Night at home, only to hear it again at the grocery store, again at church, and perhaps even again at family functions. The spaced intervals and the different way the same song is presented creates a recognition and repeated pattern that improves long term retention.
- Culture and Community – Because traditional holiday songs are so widely known, it creates a larger sense of community for those who recognize and participate. Caroling, either in one’s neighborhood, at church, or at a family function, creates a sense of familiarity and togetherness through “tidings of comfort and joy.” Culturally, sacred holiday music is very important to several major religions, passing down cherished beliefs, traditions, and messages. This is especially true for Christians, with Christmas being one of their two most widely acknowledged sacred events. Hanukkah also has several sacred songs associated with it during the holiday season.
- Public Domain – The beauty of many of our favorite traditional holiday and Christmas songs is that because they are traditional, they are not copyrighted. This is important for those who want to use the songs commercially. However, it’s not necessarily safe to assume that because you have been listening to and singing holiday songs for years that it is in the public domain. Don’t worry, you don’t have to stop humming your favorite Christmas carols, but if you are repeating them in a commercial public setting such as a children’s music class, you will want to be cautious.
Holiday and Christmas songs are some of the most widely known and recognizable music in the world. That familiarity has the ability to bring many people together, help to create a community bond, and teach many children to be better students while better understanding their culture. As we go forth to our family gathering and holiday festivities, think about how long these songs have been part of our culture and memories.