The holidays are our greatest gift. Regardless of surface-level differences in how we celebrate this time of year, the one thing we all share is tradition. It doesn’t matter if you observe Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or nothing at all, every one of us have rituals we use to get us through the winter. It’s the coldest, darkest, most inhospitable time of the year, and that’s easier to get through when we’re closer to other people, both physically and psychologically. Tradition is survival. Tradition is human.
That is the true meaning of Christmas.
Or Santa Claus.
Or even Jesus.
Christmas represents universal tradition. A communal coping mechanism evolved on a species-wide level for the purpose of survival on both a physical and spiritual level. Over time, Christmas has been twisted to mean hundreds of different things. The truth is Christmas is what you make of it, and that’s what makes it the greatest holiday in the world.
While Christmas has endured in the pop-cultural landscape for far less time than the holiday itself, it has still been around long enough for millions of different traditions to develop. From Coca-Cola popularizing Santa Claus to Montgomery Ward’s creation of Rudolph, there are a seemingly infinite number of touchstones that we share as a culture. Movies, TV, music, food, smells, shapes, and symbols all seep into our head from a young age, giving us a complicated, tangled web of connections and bonds to this complicated and tangled time of year.
Oppositely, there are just as many individual traditions that we carry out on a much smaller scale. Whether it’s watching A Christmas Story with your family or making the same cookies every year with your roommates, there are both universal celebrations and personal ones. Among this delicate balancing act of traditions, vacations, gifts, and rushing around it’s important to slow down and have a personal escape during this hyper-communal time of year. For many people, one of the newest additions to this Personal Christmas Canon is Sufjan Stevens’ holiday music.
While you may recognize him from his contributions to 2017’s Call Me By Your Name, Sufjan has been creating soul-affirming and critically-acclaimed folk music for nearly two decades. Aside from landmark artistic creations like Illinois, Age of Adz, and Carrie & Lowell, Sufjan has also displayed his personal devotion to the holidays with a catalog of two multi-hour Christmas compilations.
Religion, Christianity, and family have been a constant throughline of Sufjan’s discography, so the Christmas holiday proved to be both a fascination for Sufjan as well as a synthesis of all these themes. Releasing one EP a year from 2001 to 2011, Sufjan has birthed to exactly 100 Christmas songs over the course of one decade. Some original, some covers, some standards, each entry is lovingly-crafted and amounts to more than 4.5 hours of Christmas spirit. These songs are collected on Songs For Christmas and Silver and Gold, two releases that have warmed the hearts of indie fans and Christmas lovers alike.
A Very Sufjan Christmas is a blog dedicated to every one of these songs. Much like we all celebrate the holiday season in our special way, every listener has a unique connection with Sufjan’s extensive body of Christmas-based work. As such, each post on this website will tackle one specific Sufjan Christmas song from a different writer’s perspective as we countdown the days till Christmas. Maybe they’ll talk about their experience with Sufjan, or their memories attached to that one song. Maybe they’ll just write about the music itself.
These songs are a window into the traditions and lives of the writer. There are few albums that have opened this many spiritual doors for this many people, and that’s why these songs must be celebrated. These are the soundtracks to Christmases past and the inner lives of music fans the world over.
You’ll quickly find that each song is a beautiful work worthy of its own celebration. Whether this is your first experience with Sufjan, or you are a long-time fan, we hope you find as much connection, warmth, and joy in these songs as we did when we first heard them. We hope you connect with these stories and that they allow you to reflect on your own traditions and those of your family. Most of all, we hope you enjoy the music and we wish you a very Sufjan Christmas this year.
Welcome to our Winter Wonderland.
Love, Kyle, Taylor, and the rest of the A Very Sufjan Christmas Staff.