First let's take a look at some of the traditional Christmas music that many people know and love. Many of these songs are somewhat vague in origin and have anonymous authors. For example, "The Holly and the Ivy" is considered to have Pagan origins and may be as much as a millennium old. As one might imagine, the author and composer of "The Holly and the Ivy" are unknown. In other cases, the basis for the lyrics or tunes date back to the Medieval and Renaissance periods, though the songs were added to and published more recently. This includes "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman", "Deck the Halls" and "Away In a Manger". Many songs were original works of the 18th and 19th centuries, such as "Joy to the World", "Silent Night" and "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear". Many Xmas songs from all of these eras had separate authors and composers and were essentially poems set to music.
No-one can think of Xmas songs without thinking of "Jingle Bells". It was written in 1850 by James Pierpont. This is an example of a beloved piece of Christmas music that is not exactly about the birth of Christ at all, but about aspects of the season, in this case sleighs. The song "Good King Wenceslas" has essentially nothing to do with Christmas or even Winter. St. Stephen's feast was celebrated on December 26th so it has come to be associated with Christmas. The term "Christmas music" has come to mean music describing all kinds of things, from the birth of Christ to drinking ("The Wassail Song")!
There have been a vast number of pieces of Christmas music by classical composers throughout the ages. While not as catchy or ubiquitous as some of the aforementioned carols, these works are loved and celebrated by those who know them. These works are probably as meaningful as works unto themselves as they are for Christmas. Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker", Bach's "Christmas Oratorio" and Handel's "Messiah" are some of the better known classical works. In "Fantasia On Christmas Carols", Ralph Vaughan Williams quotes well-known Christmas tunes.
There was plenty of love for Christmas songs in the '50s and '60s. Consider all the Christmas songs that Elvis released! Many pop songs celebrating the season were penned in the mid 20th century. "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was first broadcast in 1965 and featured a beloved soundtrack of jazz by composer Vince Guaraldi. There has been a great deal of popular Christmas music in the second half of the 20th century, as well. It has become almost standard practice for major artists to release entire Christmas-themed albums. Releases from pop superstars include "8 Days of Christmas" by Destiny's Child, "One Wish: The Holiday Album" by Whitney Houston, "My Kind of Christmas" by Christina Aguilera and "Rejoyce: The Christmas Album" by Jessica Simpson.
The general reverence for Christmas songs is undeniably deep-rooted in our culture. Whether it is based on the original religious holiday, the magic of the season or simply consumerism, the music of Christmas has a timeless quality that brings many people together.