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Music for the Christmas Holidays
 by: Tony Wiseman

In our multi-cultural societies today the run up to Christmas is experienced in many different ways. The commercial version pioneered by Coca-Cola's magazine advertisements which established the red suited Santa Claus image, washes over us all through the TV advertisements and the decorations in the High Streets and shopping Malls. They built on and reinforced the Victorian version of Christmas celebrations which was dramatised by Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol which established many of the associated food and garland rituals in the public imagination -- and helped Coca-Cola promote their winter beverage sales. Much of this is accompanied by "seasonal" music in the form of carols and hymns -- often coral arrangements but sometimes instrumental - especially brass bands and the dreaded sentimental Christmas pop songs.

Music is often a subtle way of getting under the radar and evoking emotional responses from our subconscious. The commercial focus on Christmas seeks to convert these feelings into purchases -- sometimes in crude direct appeals to consume but often in a more indirect atmospheric ways. While the committed Christians concentrate on re-telling the Christmas story through as many media as possible, including music -- using the Advent season to recharge their spiritual batteries and encourage others to join them. Their tunes and some times even the words are often hijacked by those who wish to evoke a warm hearted relaxed atmosphere for the sale of their particular goods.

Much of this activity assumes a common Christian heritage and must strike those who do not share that background very oddly, not to mention the truly seasonal issues for those in the Southern Hemisphere who celebrate Christmas in mid summer rather than the deep mid winter. There is also the rival celebration of New Year which is a predominantly secular affair with a very limited musical repertoire -- mostly of Scottish origin for some reason and this eclipses Christmas in many countries. Christians adopted the pagan Winter Solstice celebrations as part of their missionary progress but those ties were loosened by the reformation and the French, American and Russian Revolutions amongst others.

The seasonal hit Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" with its Sugar Plum Fairy fits neatly into the Victorian Christmas story telling context, while Debussy's Children's Corner with its "'The Snow is Dancing" is another favorite. Others include instrumental versions of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's "Messiah" and Gounod's "Ave Maria."

Recordings like these are an ideal way to personalize those iPod or MP3 player gifts for a few dollars more -- perhaps introducing children to the classics in an accessible, amusing and memorable way.

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