The Evolution of Christmas Music


A group of people singing Christmas songs together.

Peyton Wetherholt, Writer

Christmas music is a common way for people to celebrate the holiday season. This style of music has been around since fourth century Rome, where it originated. The first Christmas songs had Latin hymns, then in the 13th century, the songs became a tradition for the holiday. With all of the time in between the fourth century to present, Christmas music has greatly evolved.


The original songs written for Christmas contain more classical melodies compared to more pop melodies found in modern songs. Many composers, such as: Arcangelo Corelli, Johanne Sebastian, and Antonio Vivaldi, used to write Christmas music, which explains the classical approach. Examples of classically composed Christmas music includes: oratorio Messiah, Christmas oratorio, and Christmas concerto. 


The more modern Christmas music has melodies of pop music. Recent generations have shown more of a liking towards pop music, which is why most modern Christmas music has pop melodies. Many of the singers who release modern Christmas music are pop artists, such as: Ariana Grande, Mariah Carey, and Justin Bieber; therefore, they maintain pop sounds throughout their Christmas songs. Examples of modern Christmas songs include: All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey and Santa Tell Me by Ariana Grande


Oakdale High School band member and senior, Brenna Hadley, explained some differences that help her identify the new Christmas songs from the old: “I guess it depends on what someone’s exact definition of what older and newer songs are… But if you look at it as a whole, you can definitely see as the music has gone from traditional to way more pop-ish.”


Another way Christmas music has evolved is through the meaning of the songs. Originally Christmas music was played in church in order to celebrate the Christmas story. Therefore, the lyrics and meaning of older songs are based on Christianity; some songs are based on specific Bible verses. For example, lyrics from, Hark The Herald Angel’s Sing, read, “glory to the newborn King,” which is a direct reference to the birth of Jesus. 


Christmas music written in recent years seems to be less about religion and more about the holiday season and spending it with significant others. The 1900s is when the themes of Christmas music started to change. A large part of this change is because experimentation began around the 1920s. People started to break away from the ways of the church and try new ideas. Therefore, as overall music evolved, so did Christmas music. Common themes of modern Christmas music include: being together in the cold, love, fictional characters, and many more. 


In recent times, many modern artists remake older Christmas songs. Sometimes they keep the traditional sound and other times they incorporate a pop or modern twist. Thus, it can be very hard to differentiate older and newer Christmas songs; in order to identify the different types of songs one really has to pay attention to the lyrics and meanings of the songs. For example, Carrie Underwood released a Christmas album containing her remakes of older songs such as, O Holy Night written in 1855, and new songs she wrote. 


Hadley opened up about her favorite new and old Christmas songs: “My favorite older Christmas song is O Come All Ye Faithful because it sounds really beautiful when sung by a choir. My favorite new Christmas song is All I Want For Christmas is You because it puts me in the Christmas spirit.”


Michael Copen, the drama specialist at Oakdale High School, had many great song recommendations for the holidays: “I think Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is an absolute home run. I also love the Ariana Grande song Santa Tell Me. There’s also a great song called Socks by JD McPherson that is fabulous! Check it out!… For old songs, it’s anything by Johnny Mathis, Barry Manilow, Nat “King” Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and, of course, Frank Sinatra.I will say that my holidays are not complete until I hear Wonderful Christmastime by Paul McCartney!”


Christmas music has been around since the fourth century and has only evolved since then. Not only does it increase festivities around the holidays but it also warms people’s hearts with beautiful lyrics. The holiday season is here, so make sure to check out some new Christmas music.