Christmas Music Car Ritual

C: “My Grandma started this ritual because she was a very big fan of the Thanksgiving holiday and a very firm believer that like, Christmas season doesn’t start until Thanksgiving passes. Um, and so she started this thing in the car that you are not allowed to listen to Christmas music until the day after Thanksgiving. Um, and then it’s like- it was believed it was bad luck, like it’s not proper, like, um, I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s like we’re not celebrating the holidays in the proper way. And if someone requests it it’s like- like I have personally before been like ‘should we listen to Christmas music’ and been like shunned by my brothers being like ‘No! Grandma says we do not listen to Christmas music in the car until after Thanksgiving, like Grandma does not allow that.’ So it is like a holiday ritual now that we follow.”

Interviewer: “And was it like a big deal when you could listen to Christmas music again?”

C: “Mhm! Especially when it would be with my Grandma, because she would have in her car this, like, plastic container that was at least a foot long that had all of the CDs of Christmas albums, like, stacked. So like, it was when that got transferred from her garage into the car after Thanksgiving, that was the signal of ‘okay, now it’s time’ and then it like- it was like finally, we can ask and we don’t have to be afraid of her being like, ‘no, it’s not Thanksgiving yet.’”

Interviewer: “Would that be something, like, an act that you witnessed, or would it be like a fun surprise?”

C: “No, we would see her do it, because we practically lived with her for most of my childhood, so we would see her from the garage get- like, we knew where it was in the garage- get it and put it in. And then it was a thing of like, we can each grab one of the CDs and pick the ones we wanted, and then she would put them in and then take the next one out and be like ‘what’s the next song to have on?’ So it was like an actual little ritual thing.”

C is a current student at the University of Southern California and grew up in Palm Desert, California. She explained that the ritual always occurred the day after Thanksgiving. When asked if anyone had ever broken the rule about no Christmas music in the car before Thanksgiving, C laughed nervously and admitted that she is a massive fan of Christmas music and sometimes listens to it in her AirPods during the summer, but that she “will NOT tell anyone” in her family, as they would still react poorly. Her pre-Thanksgiving Christmas music listening is restricted to her AirPods, however; she described one instance in which she began to listen to Christmas music in the car with her boyfriend before Thanksgiving, but felt “too guilty” and had to turn it off. Despite her love of Christmas music, C believes she will continue the tradition and ritual with her future family.

This ritual seems to be a very calendric/seasonally-based ritual enforced, as C mentioned, to ensure the ‘proper’ and time-appropriate celebration of the seasons. I have noticed that the United States, especially in commercial settings, tends to begin preparing for Christmas well in advance of the holiday, often de-emphasizing Thanksgiving celebrations by barely squeezing it in between Christmas and Halloween. By establishing listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving as a forbidden practice, C’s grandmother is able to keep the lines between different seasons and celebrations distinct and honor each in their own time. In doing so, she also created a ritual that, from C’s description, served as a fun and fondly-remembered marker of the beginning of the Christmas season for her and her grandchildren.