There's no conspiracy to recreate 1940s and 1950s childhoods. Rather, one era produced more enduring pop Christmas tunes than any other for social and technological reasons.
White Christmas / Paramount Pictures
Titled simply “Tradition,” the popular web comic xkcd recently offered a theory about Christmas pop songs—specifically, the ones that never seem to go away. With a chart showing the years of release for the 20 most popular songs according to 2000-2009 radio airplay, the caption from Randall Munroe read, “Every year, American culture embarks on a massive project to carefully recreate the Christmases of Baby Boomers’ childhoods.” It’s a snappy-sounding idea, and indeed, all of the top 20 songs were published and first performed during the 1940s and 1950s. But it can’t be that simple, can it? Does the Christmas canon have a boomer bias, or are there other reasons why we can’t escape “White Christmas” and “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer?”
While it’s true that the majority of Christmas pop music played on mainstream radio stations was originally published and recorded around mid-century, and naturally the culture of that time will permeate these songs, that does not directly equate to a modern nostalgia for that era. The cultural work of holiday tradition-building often won’t let that happen. When we sing “Happy Birthday” multiple times per year, we’re not transported back to the 1893 Kentucky schoolhouse where the song originated. And when, say, a teenager today hears “Silver Bells” or “White Christmas,” odds are they’re thinking of recent Christmases, not of the 1951 Bob Hope film The Lemon Drop Kid or Bing Crosby in Holiday Inn (odds are on Lady Gaga’s take on the latter during her recent Thanksgiving night special). For story-songs like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman,” which children perform annually, memories of Gene Autry’s 1949 and 1950 recordings of the tunes aren’t even in the equation, eliminated by the sheer force of repetition.