What I love about sad Christmas songs

If you watched the Bill Murray Christmas special on Netflix something that you almost certainly noticed was that much of it was actually kind of sad, or at least bittersweet. In between some of the laughs and broader characters there was a through-line of loneliness, isolation and regret, carried off by Murray’s natural ability to display a certain world-weariness. It isn’t your typical Christmas special and for me the highlight was a group rendition of The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” around a piano. Part Irish ballad, part punk love song and, perhaps most unusually, a Christmas song, “Fairytale” is maybe-not-quite a holiday classic and would be an odd interlude on your local FM station’s 24 hour Christmas music. Maybe that’s why I like it so much.

Christmas (and the whole holiday season in general) can be a difficult time for many of us with a mental health issue, particularly depression and anxiety. Whether it’s because of things like added social obligations or changes in the weather/daylight that can lead to seasonal affective disorder this time of year is rough for a lot of people. It can be especially tough to be surrounded by things like joy and togetherness when you’re feeling sad and alone. You can feel guilty on top of everything else for not being a part of what’s happening around you and that just feeds the cycle. So when I hear a sad song, I can relate. It’s strangely comforting. Or perhaps it’s that many of the sad songs have a pinch of hope.  That there’s a message of yes, things may be awful now, but redemption isn’t beyond reach.

Take Jim Croce’s “It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way.” While the song itself is dominated by the tale of a strained relationship and sadness, the title itself says it all. It doesn’t have to be that way. Even a song like “Fairytale of New York” has an affirmation of something good, this breakdown/tribute lays out.

So while I like all kinds of Christmas music, I love the sad songs. They tell me I’m not alone and they remind me that there’s hope. I’ve highlighted these two, but I’m sure there are others that fit this description and may be a personal favorite of yours.

Anything but “Christmas Shoes.”

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