Sufjan Stevens – Christmas in the Room
Christmas pop songs: three words that are as likely to fill us with cold dread rather than any sense of festive cheer. Occasionally though, something brilliant is released which makes wading through the glut of compilations, re-releases and hastily added sleigh-bells to EVERYTHING worthwhile.
One artist who has embraced the Christmas song like no other is Sufjan Stevens. From 2001 onwards, he has released – initially as gifts for friends – compilations of both festive classics and original compositions. At the last count, he has recorded close to 100 Christmas songs. Sufjan is really, really, obsessed with Christmas.
He is also a truly wonderful (and prodigiously talented) pop star, and one who fully understands the emotion and melancholy that frequently accompanies the season. In the liner notes to Silver & Gold – his latest Christmas album – he summarises the holiday period as a time where we know ‘for certain we will never really get what we want for Christmas, or in life, for that matter’. Try saying that in front of loved ones when wearing your novelty reindeer hat this year.
Uniquely though, this makes his approach to Christmas songs neither commercially opportunistic, nor driven by a sense of wanting to write an ‘indie’ anti-Christmas song. With such an overwhelming catalogue of festive songs to choose from, I asked myself which track would I want to share with my friends and family who aren’t familiar with Sufjan Stevens? And that one song is the terrific, warm hug of a tune – Christmas in the Room.
Existing in two versions, the piano led original from 2008 and its more fully produced, subtly electronic sibling from 2012, it is one of my favourite Christmas songs. A simple ballad at heart, it stands against everything the consumer onslaught of Christmas represents, its almost lullaby like melody immediately grabbing the attention:
“No travel plans, no shopping malls / No candy canes or Santa Claus / For as the day of rest draws near / It’s just the two of us this year“.
And then the repeated refrain of the chorus:
“I’ll come to you, I’ll sing to you / Like it’s Christmas in the room / I’ll dance with you, I’ll laugh with you / ’til it’s Christmas in the room“.
In its hushed delivery, Sufjan conveys both joy in the traditions of Christmas and an acknowledgement that none of them are needed – if you are with the one you love. It’s a song about finding the true spirit of the season – and all its joy and sorrow – in another person. It’s a beautiful sentiment.
In fact, it’s remarkable that such a genuinely positive Christmas song, with lyrics which clearly draw inspiration from – and wrestle with the meaning of – Christian verse, is never anything but a sweet, universal love song. It never veers into schmaltz, and indeed Sufjan makes reference in the middle eight to life being transitory – he is aware this moment of bliss will not last forever – but he is prepared to put that thought aside, if just for one day.
The final verse encapsulates the true meaning of the song, and Christmas in general:
“No gifts to give, they’re all right here / inside our hearts, the glorious cheer / And in the house we see a light / That comes from what we know inside“.
So, if this year you want to play an alternative to the Christmas standards, and want a little respite from the glut of hastily jingle-belled pop songs, you can’t go far wrong with this gorgeous tune.
Entered chart: was not released
Who could sing this today and have a hit? I was hoping the Kylie Christmas album would include a few quiet, contemplative songs (minus James Corden, obvs). This would have been a gorgeous track for her to cover. I think she could really relate to the lyrics.
I prefer his dad, Shakin’.
And his sister, Rachel/