I’m dreaming of a Spotify Christmas

Virginia Heffernan
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By Virginia Heffernan

This Christmas, I’m not going to wreck the holiday like a petulant teenager. I’m not going to build up weird expectations and then explode in disappointment. I’m not going to drive everyone nuts.

I’ll admit it: I’ve been a Christmas-ruiner in my time. But I’ve seen the Ghost of Christmas Future—I’m a batty, carping grandma in unwashed tartans, alone under dusty Ikea mistletoe—and I must change my ways.

My method is music. On the subway and at my desk, music is the swiftest way out of grudges and anxiety for me. Maybe music is this year’s channel to a perfectly imperfect Christmas in my household.

As Pope Benedict XVI puts it: “Whether it is Bach or Mozart that we hear in church, we have a sense in either case of what Gloria Dei, the glory of God, means. The mystery of infinite beauty is there and enables us to experience the presence of God more truly and vividly than in many sermons.”

Wow, it feels super Christmas-y to quote the POPE!

But music in 2012 means I’m dreaming of a Spotify Christmas. This plan was sealed when I was searching for some carols on the wonderfully wikipedic Swedish music-streaming service and a song called “Virginia This Christmas” popped up. It’s all about a person named Virginia who needs to get her life together and stop ruining Christmas. Just the wake-up call I needed.

I went into overdrive with my “Unruined Christmas” playlist. I had a few good ideas: Otis Redding’s “White Christmas,” Dolly Parton’s “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” She & Him doing “Christmas Waltz,” and Björk’s “Solstice.”

But it wasn’t until I posted my first draft of the Spotify list to Twitter and Facebook, and got feedback and more lists to tune into, that I filled my playlist out to the overlong masterpiece it now is.

Now I’ve got Estonian sacred music. Beyoncé’s “Ave Maria.” “Cold December Nights” by Boyz II Men. Tammy Wynette’s “Away in a Manger.” Willie Nelson’s “Pretty Paper.”

Hem’s “Peace at Last.” The Blind Boys of Alabama’s “Last Month of the Year.” David Poe’s “Doxology.” Dolly Parton’s “Go Tell It On the Mountain.” Nancy and Ann Wilson, “Blue Christmas.” Harry Nilsson’s “Snow.”

There’s David Crowder’s gorgeous “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Thea Gilmore’s “That’ll Be Christmas.”

Check out Neil Halstead’s “Man in the Santa Suit.” Are you liking this?

There’s freaking Carla Bruni doing “Jolis Sapins” and “Noël D’Espoir”!

OK, now I’m boasting. Which is the kind of Christmas person I’m trying not to be. “Aren’t the gingerbread men I made good?” “Didn’t I get mom the perfect present?”

But Spotify playlist-makers—formerly mixed-tape-makers—cherish their eclecticism and their juxtapositions. Unlike me, though, they’re usually modest about all that.

When other playlisters recommended their lists to me—on Twitter, Facebook and email—they praised my list and humbly suggested their own. (Their lists turned out to be Grammy-quality: the coolest, weirdest Christmas songs I’ve ever heard.)

Spotify has opened my eyes to so much about music. Just what I’ve long feared about headphones—that they lock us away in separate sonic universes, and shut us out of shared auditory space—has been upended on Spotify. While I listen to my own hit-or-miss choices, I can see what my Facebook friends are listening to. I can tune into their stuff as if they were DJs, and jump in to their winding sets. It’s an amazing, intimate way to experience music socially.

Right now, as I type this, an executive I know is listening to Rickie Lee Jones. A music-business person is listening to The Vaccines. A journalist is listening to Ravi Shankar.

It’s kind of cool to know that, during a weekday, at midday, everyone’s in their own musical sweet spot. I decided to jump on The Berlin Philaharmonic doing “The Nutcracker.”

I wondered whether I should click on the track and move it into my “Unruined Christmas” playlist. And then re-link to the playlist on Twitter, claiming I’d made revisions. I thought long and hard before deciding I had plenty of classical.

So maybe I wasn’t being all that productive. But it occurred to me that I also wasn’t ruining anything. This Christmas, that’s enough. Merry Everything!