Holiday blues: a playlist for coping with sadness around the holidays
I love the holiday season, but it also brings about unavoidable feelings of sadness and loneliness.
Memories of Christmas spent with the person I thought I would spend every holiday with for the rest of my life. A friend stolen away from me in her youth. The death of a grandmother who practically raised me. An aunt and godmother lost to early-onset Alzheimer’s. The ever-present absence of a father who didn’t know how to love me.
I carry this pain with me always, but the holidays bring it into sharp, unavoidable focus –– and I think the sadness I feel at this time of year is often exacerbated by the idea that we’re supposed to be cheerful.
I know I am not the only one who struggles with feelings of sadness during the holiday season. So, I made this playlist to say it is OK to be sad at Christmas time. I hope these songs can help to soothe your holiday blues.
A Fine Frenzy - “Red Ribbon Foxes”
This hauntingly beautiful ballad by indie singer-songwriter A Fine Frenzy examines some of the deeper, existential questions and feelings we have at this time of year. From a critique of the empty consumerism that seems to be everywhere during the holidays to questions of faith, “Red Ribbon Foxes” is a refreshingly introspective holiday tune that feels like a walk through a cold, snowy evening.
Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson - “Winter Song”
An evocative, melancholy piano tune, “Winter Song” is a bittersweet yet ultimately hopeful lamentation on the steady change of seasons and circumstances. Bareillesand Michaelson mourn the loss of a lover, crooning that “December never felt so wrong/Because you’re not where you belong/Inside my arms,” an all too familiar feeling for anyone experiencing the loss of a relationship during the holiday season. The pair sing of a storm coming soon, rolling in from the sea, alluding to struggles approaching in the future, yet tinged with a bittersweet acceptance of the pain to come.
Taylor Swift - “Christmases When You Were Mine”
“Christmases When You Were Mine” highlights how Christmas can be perhaps the worse time to be nursing a broken heart. “Please take down the mistletoe/‘Cause I don’t wanna think about that right now,” she sings, echoing how loneliness feels magnified when you’re surrounded by couples falling in love and cheerful tunes about spending Christmas with that special someone.
And how that feeling is made even worse when you feel like it’s not OK to feel sad and lonely, “I know this shouldn’t be a lonely time/But there were Christmases when you were mine.”
Coldplay - “Christmas Lights”
Chris Martinopens this modern, plaintive Christmas carol by reflecting that “Oh, when you’re still waiting for the snow to fall/It doesn’t really feel like Christmas at all.” Snow in this case can mean more than just frozen precipitation, but rather the buoyant happiness we’re expected to feel. In other words, when you’re broken-hearted or processing grief, it’s hard to get in the holiday spirit.
But the chorus takes a more hopeful turn. “Those Christmas lights/Light up the street/Down where the sea and city meet/May all your troubles soon be gone/Oh Christmas lights keep shining on.” Martin doesn’t insist you put on a happy face, but rather gently wishes your troubles away.
Judy Garland - “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
This often-misunderstood Christmas classic is my favorite holiday tune. It originated in the 1944 film “Meet Me in St. Louis” when Judy Garland’s character is trying to comfort her little sister, who is devastated to learn she will be moving from St. Louis to New York, separating her from her friends, family and everything she has ever known. Both Garland and the young actress are in tears throughout the scene. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was never meant to be a happy Christmas song — and that’s why I love it.
Newer covers of the track change the lyrics of the bridge from “Someday soon, we all will be together/If the fates allow/Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow” to “Through the years we all will be together/If the fates allow/Hang a shining star upon the highest bough,” which completely changes the meaning of the song and disregards its original context.
Sometimes we’re not all together. There will be Christmases where you notice one less pair of hands while hanging up the lights. Where December never felt so wrong. But what I love about the original “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is it validates those feelings, while still acknowledging the possibility of hope that someday soon things will get better.
Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow — and that’s OK.