December 22, 2021

3 Holiday Songs that Bring Back the Magic of Christmas—even when I’m surrounded by Grinches.

Working at Elephant Journal for the past six years means I’ve been lucky enough to spend six holiday seasons getting a glimpse into the lives and hearts and minds of our authors at what is supposed to be (according to Andy Williams at least) “the most wonderful time of the year.”

But I’ve noticed that a good portion of the articles we receive and share during this time revolve around the struggle of the holidays:

Toxic families
Money issues

I understand and feel each of these sentiments intimately and am dealing with my own version of a few of them. And I firmly believe that in order to deal with our emotions we must be able to name, accept, and feel them. So, I get it.

But it can be kind of depressing to feel like this is all that Christmas becomes as we get older. Especially when I still can’t help but feel all the magic that exists this time of year.

My family doesn’t mess around when it comes to Christmas. My mom puts up two trees, often before Thanksgiving, along with a minimum of five elaborate Christmas villages throughout the house. My siblings and I each get a new Christmas ornament and (usually) matching pajamas each year. We make the traditional Puerto Rican Christmas Eve dinner of arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas) and pernil (roasted pork), complete with homemade coquito (egg nog with a kick). My dad has donned a Santa hat and read The Night before Christmas to us since we were little (for reference, I’m 38 years old). Our dogs have their own Christmas stockings, we bake Christmas cookies and make gingerbread houses, and I can’t even remember how to spell budget when the holidays come around.

And even with all the chaos and stress that comes with our wacky traditions, I look forward to this time of year with the same anticipation and joy that I did when I was little.

So, in an attempt to combat the sadness and overwhelm and loss and overall Grinchy-ness (while understandable) that can often hang in the air around this time, I thought I’d share three songs that always bring me back to the magic of Christmas:

“Someday at Christmas” by The Jackson 5

This song, and honestly this entire album, define the holidays for me. Growing up, I remember it playing on repeat as my entire extended family gathered in my grandparents’ apartment in the Bronx to decorate my grandma’s Christmas tree or to open our special gifts on Christmas Eve. The upbeat melody, and Michael Jackson’s sweet voice, are what I remember most clearly, but as I got older and paid attention to the lyrics, I realized how the Christmas they were describing was exactly the reason this season can be so wonderous. And while I don’t see some of my extended family nearly as much as I’d like anymore, have purposefully disconnected from others, and grieve for too many all year, when I listen to this song, I can imagine we’re all together and happy again.

“All I want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey

Yes, this is the most popular Christmas song of all time (and some might say the most overplayed). But even after 27 years, it’s still the Christmas song I associate with falling in love for the first time. The year it debuted, I remember playing the cassette obsessively and wondering when it would be my turn to feel all the big feelings that Mariah couldn’t help but sing about. Roughly a year later, I found my person (at the time) and by the following Christmas the song had taken on new meaning for me. There’s just something hopeful about being in love during the holidays, regardless of how old you are. (And if you don’t get giddy little chills just listening to the first opening bells of this song, may I suggest therapy?)

“O Holy Night” by ‘NSYNC

I don’t consider myself a deeply religious person but growing up Catholic (and Latina) I’ve always felt connected to some of the more traditional, birth of Jesus-related holiday tunes. There are tons of versions of “O Holy Night,” but this one will always be my favorite. The summer before my older sister left for college, she, myself, and my younger sister became total ‘NSYNC fangirls. Our love and devotion were palpable (and probably expensive for my poor parents) but it was also something that connected us in a way very little had in the years prior. And when ‘NSYNC released their Christmas album, we all became equally obsessed with it, and more specifically, this acapella tune. We still stop in our tracks when it comes on our holiday playlist and one of us will yell “turn it up!” Hearing it will always remind me of my sisters, my best friends since birth.

If I had the time, I could absolutely keep this list going; my current holiday playlist on Spotify is eight-hours long—and I’m pretty sure I’m missing a few songs. But I’d love to hear your favorite holiday tunes. Which ones bring back a happy memory or make you feel like a kid again or remind you of someone who’s no longer with you to celebrate? Leave your songs and stories in the comments!

May these memories warm all our little grown-up, Grinchy hearts and help them grow at least three sizes too big this year.


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