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The Origins of Christmas Carols and The Impact Music Has on People with Memory Impairments

christmas carols

Music forms an enjoyable soundtrack for our lives, connecting key moments and memories and bringing them back for us to savor in our later years. What’s amazing is how we come together with others under music’s influence, listening to or singing Christmas carols while we enjoy the current moment and past memories. We are sharing the stories of many Christmas favorites, and while reading them, it’s easy to see how our Christmas songbook deeply connects with life.

Christmas Songs and Times of Hope

christmas songsThe Civil War era, Great Depression, and World War II produced some of the most heartfelt and uplifting melodies. Phillips Brooks, a Boston-born Episcopalian preacher known for raising his voice against slavery, traveled to Bethlehem in 1885 just after the end of the Civil War and had a profound experience that led him to pen the classic carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Years later, the song was first sung by his church’s youth choir.

Modern Christmas songs with commercial origins, like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” a radio show hit in 1934, and “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” from 1939, provided encouragement after the Great Depression. 

Written by J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie, Santa Claus is Coming to Town was inspired from a place of grief as they were asked to write a Christmas song shortly after Gillepsie’s brother passed. He initially declined the offer, but while riding the subway, he was reminded of his mother’s warnings to him and his brother in their childhood that Santa was always watching. Gillespie had the lyrics written in 15 minutes, and composer Coots made up the music. It became an instant hit within 24 hours.

As the Great Depression began to fade and World War II lurking in the distance, Christmas cheer was in short supply. Department store giant, Montgomery Ward & Co., created a free holiday book for children that included a story about a reindeer as the main character, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The book was a massive success for the department store. Montgomery Ward & Co. signed over the copyright to their adman who created it, Robert May. A few years later, May, tasked his brother-in-law with transforming the story into a song. After Bing Crosby turned it down, Gene Autry went on to sing this classic Christmas carol, and it continues to be one of the best-selling songs of all time.

judy garlandHave Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” arrived in 1944 during WWII and was famously sung by Judy Garland in the classic movie, Meet Me in St. Louis. Judy sings the bittersweet song to her younger sister to cheer her up as their family prepares to move away from their cherished hometown. 

Bing Crosby sang “White Christmas” on the Kraft Music Hall Radio Show in 1941. The already sad song struck an even more tragic chord as Crosby sang it two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It has become the best-selling Christmas song of all time and the best-selling record of all time, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Some Songs Just Fit the Christmas Mood Naturally

Some Christmas songs weren’t Christmas-inspired at all. “Jingle Bells” was intended for Thanksgiving, originally called “One Horse Open Sleigh.” An out-of-this-world fact about Jingle Bells is that it was the first song ever played in space when US astronauts Wally Schirra and Thomas Stafford orbited Earth on Gemini 6 on December 6, 1965!

Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride,” from 1948, was inspired by a July heat wave. Both songs evoke images from a spirited midwinter and became natural Christmas favorites.

Music and Memory Care

With Christmas songs, memories return of singing with family, church choirs, outdoors in community groups, or even singing to yourself as you wrap gifts. The magic of music’s connection for Alzheimer’s patients is this and more. 

By asking “why” these songs bring familiar Christmas scents, scenes, flavors, sounds, and people to mind, we connect with important research into the effect of music on Alzheimer’s patients. The rhythms, emotions, and other brain connections that familiar songs produce help route around the obstacles that Alzheimer’s creates in the brain. Even advanced cases give way to patterns of rhythm, movement, and other basic elements of music, maintaining a personal connection as long as possible. Music joins together our seven dimensions of wellness perfectly!

Even when the later stages of Alzheimer’s draw patients inward with little affection and few lucid moments of communication, with music, patients often still dance, sway, smile, and move closer to others. It’s a miracle of Christmas and helpful year-round in boosting the results of many forms of Alzheimer’s care.

Benefits of Music Provide Keys to Alzheimer’s Research

Music has been proven helps patients improve balance while walking, boost moods, manage behavioral disturbances, and encourage participation in exercise. It’s also a perfect complement to programs like our brain neurobics intervention program to maintain and restore brain health. 

If You or a Loved One Are Struggling, We Are Here to Help

Tribute Senior Living is focused on helping people. If you or a loved one are dealing with memory impairments or have questions about dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, we are here to help keep you informed. Contact us via our website or by calling us at 972-978-3999.

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