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The Science of Christmas Songs

Christmas can be a crazy time of year, with pressures and worries galore! However, my favourite part of this festive season has to be the music. It might surprise you, but it's scientifically proven that Christmas music is good for you 😉

The main element of this is the collective activity of singing together and the unity it creates. The togetherness; the bond; harmony; purpose; and the physical act of breathing together as one, creating a beautiful sound. It also allows an escape from the pressure of this time of year, taking your mind off the outside world and just focusing on the act of singing. When we sing, our brain wanders off to a different place, spaces in our mind to create sound and melodies. There are fascinating images of MRI scans of people’s brains when they are singing, and all areas are lighting up (like Christmas trees) having to construct music, whilst in the scanner. This is physical evidence of what your brain is doing when singing/playing music, an actual impact on you.

Another wonderful thing about Christmas songs are the words we are singing: regardless of your beliefs, nearly all Christmas songs have similar universal themes of love, hope and joy. I personally reflect on this as a time to look back on the year gone by and be grateful for many things, but looking forward for wonderful things to come too.

Music is a powerful tool, intricately entwined with memories. Times when music brings back memories of people, events, and places is called "music-evoked autobiographical memory". This is the link to our long-term memory, which can be divided between two distinct types: implicit memory and explicit memory. Because music engages both type of memories, it stimulates more parts of your brain than other things, strengthening those senses and linking smell/sight/sound/taste and touch. This is part of the reason why music has such a strong presence in our lives and the ability to connect the past with the present. Some people listen to music for comfort, others to boost or enhance mood, or for an unlimited number of reasons. Christmas music has the same impact on your brain and how you feel, catapulting you to another time. You can be reminded of Christmas as a child, or carol singing with friends. It has a wonderful sense of magic, even if you have sang these songs hundreds of times and it can bring back a certain moment in your life, the taste of a mince pie, the temperature around you, the smell of the mulled wine, the sound of laugher over the music. This time of year can be difficult for many, but I find comfort in the music that surrounds me to help with focusing on positive memories and times that make me smile. It is never too late to make new memories to these favourite songs!

This time of year is musically interesting too (particularly with the instruments used) which aren’t typically used in music all year round. Here are just a few examples...

  • Chimes

  • Handbells

  • Sleigh Bells

  • Organ

  • Lute

Think of your favourite Christmas song/carol, and just listen closely to it next time it crosses your path and take note of what you can hear. Take in all the beautiful sounds the composer wanted you to be surrounded by. Feel free to comment your favourite Christmas song or carol underneath, and why this song makes you smile!

Written by Tiffany (CFG Director)

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