Tidings of comfort and joy

It’s late november, and darkness has fallen over my home in Stockholm. The sun has yet to rise when we get ready for work, study and play, and it descends many hours before we’re truly ready for evening. There’s no snow yet to reflect and enhance the little light we do have. The sombre autumn clouds of earlier this month are replaced with a stinging cold that pricks our cheeks and keep us firmly tucked under our fluffed-up winter duvets for as long as we are possibly able to.

Christmas eve, 1925, in the wealthy suburb of Saltsjöbaden outside Stockholm. Little Karin Grönstedt has got her own Christmas Tree in her room.
Photo: Aja Burman/Stockholm City Museum

I moved here in May, and for my wife, who is Dominican, it is a shock to experience the Swedish winter, even after living in Utah with its equally cold but significantly brighter and drier climes. And this has got me thinking a little bit on how climate affects our musical expectations of the Christmas season.

You see, in the Dominican republic Christmas music is relentlessly happy. Cima Sabor Navideño, the Christmas radio channel that dominates the seasonal audio landscape, mainly plays merengue from the 1980s, slick, poppy and joyful. It’s the time of the returning Juanita, daughter of the diaspora, flying home to feasting and merriness and fabulous memories, like a million Dominicans abroad do every year.

That sort of joy is certainly present in Christmas celebrations the world over. But there’s an additional layer, almost literally so, to Christmas music in the dreary winter darkness and cold on this end of the world. Like candles in windows, like hot mulled wine, it brings a sense of warmth and comfort that makes the season liveable. And somehow, being under that musical blanket can sometimes make it the best season of all, a season of reflection and cosiness, of love and wistful longing.

The first review of our season is coming on Tuesday. Whether filled with joy or comfort or many more complex emotions, we’ll keep taking Christmas music seriously, no matter the climate.

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