The Grump Who Liked Christmas
Obiekwe “Obi” Okolo
This time last year, I confessed to all of you, our readers, that I, Obiekwe Matthew Okolo, don’t like Christmas music. More specifically, my lived truth is one of not liking or understanding two specific things. One, the way we seem to collectively abandon our rational minds and all sense of time and order on November 1st (I think I saw my first holiday display in the wild in mid-October this year). Two, the repetitive nature of the season’s music, a second serving of beef cooked to perfection during my time as a retail employee. I understand we only have to tolerate this itchy tinsel blanket of cheer once a year, but if you’d spent four years of your life folding the same sweater 20 times over while sleigh bells just kept jingling, ring-ting-tingling, over and over and over again, interrupted only by the sound of Mariah Carey imploring that all she wants for Christmas is you, 8 hours a day, five days a week, you might have some feelings too. I made a bet that many of you do.
As you can imagine, in the age of the internet, my admission was met with an extreme mix of acceptance and derision. Turns out, it isn’t possible to have measured feelings about Christmas music. The Grump Who Liked Christmas Vol. 1 was a playlist made up primarily of takes on familiar holiday classics by unfamiliar artists. This year, I didn’t intend to revist the idea until one day, while driving home from the grocery store, a song came up on my Spotify that had nothing to do with the holidays but just felt like the season. The Grump Who Liked Christmas Vol. 2 is about the spirit, the feeling, of the holiday season, but if you’re thinking jolly and bright, you might be in for a bit of a bummer.
The winter holidays bring with them an outsized pressure to be joyous. We sing refrains about the magic of Christmas and demand one another to “believe” in order to maintain that magic. What even is that magic? In a world of 8 billion unique storylines, where human triumph and human tragedy are neighbors, who are any of us to demand belief in some pixie dust version of a season? What feels most true to me is rooted in a belief system given to me as a child, the story of the birth of a Messiah, though I don’t believe you have to belong to the same tradition to hold this truth with me. The feeling of the holiday embodied in Vol. 2 is one of, yes, joy and celebration, but not without anticipation, uncertainty, mourning, and even fear.
This holiday season, like so many the last few years, it seems impossible to celebrate in the face of so much pain. Our BitterSweet conviction calls on us to join you, our readers, in that tension—to hold the pain, to co-suffer alongside in shared sorrow, to stand with you in the uncertainty of what may come next, and in doing so, orient you toward hope in the stories of a defiant and resilient human spirit. Let this serve as permission for you to ditch that itchy blanket and feel all that the holiday spirit might offer. Receive this mix of songs across genre and time, ones you may or may not know, including the absolutely unhinged rendition of an Olivia Rodrigo hit that inspired this exploration. Let’s take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne. Be well.
Take a seat, pour a drink, turn shuffle off and hit play. Our BitterSweet playlists are for listening. Not background playing, ideally. There are so few invitations and avenues for unhurried, undistracted listening in our world. Give yourself an hour with this playlist to appreciate where we are right now—thinking little about where we’ve been or where we’re headed. Enjoy.
Ps. A little protip for Spotify users. I find the abrupt ends and silence between songs to be a bit distracting. The break often yanks me out of the space the music collection is working to create. If you agree, try this. Go to “Settings” on your Spotify desktop or mobile app. Scroll down to find the “Playback” settings, and set the “Crossfade Songs” slider to at least 8 seconds. Now your songs will flow seamlessly from one to the other.