top of page

Indulging in those Holiday Blues

By Callum Foulds

Photo: Unsplash

This time of year is hard for many ever-growing reasons. Whether you’re facing the mammoth task of finding the perfect gifts and curating the perfect day for your friends and family; or you’re facing off those winter demons, and the pressure to adopt a perpetually jovial attitude feels utterly stifling and ends up causing the very antithesis. I would not find it hard to believe if everyone were in someway fatigued by the holiday season. There are of course elements that I enjoy: strings of warm lights; huddles of cold coffee drinkers in cafes; finding the time to spend with people whom are most dear to you. Alongside these positives, I have found that the best way to get through the season is to accept and fully embrace the ways in which you respond to the festivities. As I do every year, I have curated a playlist of songs that help me get through this surreal time of year. Below, I shall elaborate on a few of my favourites on the list, and how they get me through the weeks.

'Blue Christmas' by Sharon Van Etten

Already a quietly devastating song, Sharon Van Etten’s take on the 1948 classic, originally recorded by Doye O’Dell, is the epitome of a modern take on a traditional Christmas song. It is slower and more sparse than the original, and hangs completely off Van Etten’s singular voice. She highlights the lyrics with her swilling lilt of a voice, and somehow manages to give this song a sense of dread; as if; if she were to end up lonely this Christmas, it would be a devastating affair.

'If We Make It Through December' by Phoebe Bridgers

Released during the first Christmas spent within the thick of the pandemic, Phoebe Bridgers’ take on Merle Haggard’s 1974 masterpiece is a perfect example of how context can give a song so much more meaning. I remember the first time listening to it, and how my heart sank as Bridgers’ skeletal breath whispered out, “If we make it through December/Everything’s gonna be alright, I know”. I remember feeling that it was a particularly cruel release, especially considering when it came out: however; ultimately I came to accept the feeling of catharsis this song gave me. It voiced, not only how I felt about the time of it’s release, but how I felt about season as a whole. It has become a personal mantra of mine, knowing that the world does not live and die on the manner in which Christmas is celebrated.

'Day After Tomorrow' by Tom Waits

Prepare yourself. This one is particularly brutal. When asked what I think is the saddest song ever written, more than often the first thing that comes to mind is this apocalyptically bleak song by Tom Waits. After a day of forced smiles; seas of busy shoppers; maniacally cheery movies, I have found that the best thing in order to regain some normality is to revel in the dark depths of despair. Waits’ gravel-in-a-grinder vocals recall a sort of Dickensian Christmas, of large fires and small houses and cruel injustices many face, highlighted especially during this time of year. I won’t spoil the song by sharing the lyrics here, but know that it’s a song that tackles with the frailty of existence and how powerless it is possible to feel.

'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas' by Bright Eyes

This is likely the most incongruous addition to this list. Judy Garland’s original 1944 rendition remains one of the most iconic seasonal tracks of all time, but this version by indie crooners, Bright Eyes gives it a brand new feeling. For the past twenty years the voice of Conor Oberst has invoked feelings of sorrowful romanticism, becoming one of music’s most recognisable sad boys. On their take of this classic song, the band adopt a hopelessly yearning vibe that really tugs on the heart strings. If you’re prone to nostalgia or sentimentalism, beware; the sheer gravity of Oberst’s dusty voice will get into your bones and mar the season, for the best or not!

'That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!' by Sufjan Stevens

My final choice for this list is an original song by the godfather of despair: Sufjan Stevens has been comforting listeners for two decades with his terrifyingly mournful songs; this Christmas jam is no different, despite being sonically deceiving. There is something reassuring about sharing unfortunate holiday events, about rolling your eyes sardonically with friends and acquaintances alike, before giving yourself over to the rush of festivity. This songs reminds me that it’s ok, if not encouraged, to let your feelings flow this time of year. It is ok to find Christmas difficult. It is ok to celebrate in unconventional, even selfish ways, if it means protecting yourself. It is ok to not celebrate at all. There is fun to be had in comically tragic situations, and I think it behoves us all to take Christmas a little less seriously in order to lighten the load for those who find the season particularly challenging.

Whether you’re indulging in decadent celebrations, or opting for a more understated time, I sincerely hope these songs find you in a good place. I’m not going to lie: Christmas can suck; but often, it is in those moments of melancholy where you find what you are looking for. I have found that embracing my own somewhat negative views of the holidays has let the pressures lift and I am able to have a more relaxed time. There is jubilation to be found in communal cynicism, and if you struggle at this time of year, I encourage you to listen to where your gut tells you to go, and perhaps this playlist can be the soundtrack to your alternative festivities.


About the Writer:

Callum Foulds is a poet and recording artist based in Nottingham, England. They enjoy good food, scary movies and playing with their cat. They can often be found reading on the couch, or agonising over whatever creative venture they are currently embarking on. @cf_oulds


bottom of page