Ring A (Christmas) Bell?

Let’s talk science, baby. To start, I’ll state the obvious – there are a few staples that come to mind when building excitement for the holiday season and all of its celebrations; many of which have been mentioned in our previous fabulous three days of Christmas. But one of the most essential, obvious and festive ways to rejoice in the season really is an underlying thread throughout the whole experience of Christmas delight; it isn’t the fictional characters on screen or goodies under the tree, but it also isn’t the basis of the deep-seated emotions we feel during the holidays. It’s right underneath it all, like it is in most situations, assisting in moulding and prompting out of us the many feelings that stem from both the tangible and emotional excitement of the season. In a nutshell, sometimes I think it’s the background noise and music that lead to a lot of the festive action within our busy brains.

As Daniel J. Levitin states in his mind-blowing (little pun) book This Is Your Brain On Music: “According to the multiple-trace memory models, every experience (we have) is potentially encoded in memory. Not in a particular place in the brain, because the brain is not like a warehouse; rather, memories are encoded in groups of neurons that, when set to proper values and configured in a particular way, will cause a memory to be retrieved and replayed in the theatre of our minds.”

Levitin argues that the reason we’re not able to recall everything that happens to us in life isn’t because it wasn’t “stored” properly – but, rather that we can’t always gather enough of the right tidbits or cues to access a memory accurately over (and over) again.

Raise your hand if you think we have enough musical cues to access the emotions triggered around Christmastime? A few mentions of “dashing” through snow, maybe a “tra” or even a “lala”, throw in a partridge and a pear tree and your brain’s neural circuits are blinking red and green, ladies and gentlemen.

For the most part, whether it’s a birthday, starting school or a holiday like Christmas (or any other annual event) – there is more than one heart warming, traditional, or distinctive thing re-occurring in our lives that invokes very, very strong emotions each time. Therefore it’s very safe to say that the notes, lyrics and age-old imagery found in Christmas music are perfect examples. Because let’s face it, if we decorated in silence, tore open gifts with nada noise, held a mute holiday gathering or never heard a bell jingle – the whole experience would be missing one of the best “cues” and memory growth ingredients.

Here are some important songs for your brains to (re)soak in during this last week before Christmas – some re-created, some classics, some from stores and some from movies. But, in a nutshell, they’re all gifts from my heart to yours – and my brain to your brain – during the most wonderful time of the year.

In no particular order…

1. White Christmas – Otis Redding

2.Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – Death Cab for Cutie

3. Merry Christmas Baby – Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band

4. Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree – She and Him

5. Donna and Blitzen – Badly Drawn Boy

6. Christmas Song – The Raveonettes 

7. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Coldplay

8. Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town – Johnny Mercer /The Pied Pipers (Q-Burns Abstract Message remix)

9. I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm – Kay Starr remix

10. All I Want For Christmas – Yeah Yeah Yeahs

11. What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? – Rufus Wainwright

12. The Christmas Song – Dave Matthews

13. What Christmas Means to Me – Stevie Wonder

14. Winter Song – Ingrid Michaelson and Sara Bareilles

15. Auld Lyng Syne – Mairi Campbell and Dave Francis


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