The holiday season is in full swing and like many of you I have been listening to and enjoying the music and movies associated with this time of year (iTunes has many fantastic "Essential Holiday Music" lists-- I especially like this one). In choosing this week's feature image (the Richard Hamilton print above), I ended up doing a bit of a deep dive into the history and cultural influence of 1930-50's Hollywood Christmas movies. What many people are surprised to learn is that the majority of "classic" Christmas songs were first composed, popularized, and featured in American films during and following WWII. At a time when US troops were stationed away from their families, and the spectre of warfare brought great global uncertainty, the film industry worked to produce nostalgic and at times escapist films to help the nation take its mind off of the war.
In this way, the function of holiday music was more than just tied to Christmas-- it was seen as a uniting and patriotic cultural product to bring the country together. Looking more closely, it is interesting to find that a large number of the most commercially popular Christmas songs were written by Jewish composers, most notably Irving Berlin, who wrote the iconic "White Christmas," the song referenced in the title of the Hamilton print. Other Berlin songs include "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let it Snow!," "Silver Bells," and even "You're A Mean One Mr. Grinch"! In turn, each of these songs has helped shape the filmic and visual landscape associated with what we now come to expect from the urban holiday-scape. Enjoy the links, and if you find yourself singing along to a holiday classic in the coming days, Google it and discover something more about its cultural context. It might just surprise you!
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