For an ancient holiday, Christmas has had a surprisingly cozy relationship with the modern world. The commercial radio age began on Christmas Eve, 1906, when "O Holy Night" was sung on the first AM radio broadcast. You could write a whole history of Christmas broadcast television, from sleepy Whoville and its Grinch to Charlie Brown specials (not to mention Gian-Carlo Menotti's NBC opera Amahl and the Night Visitors, broadcast in 1951). Christmas provides the leitmotif for It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street, Elf and Home Alone. And 2013 brought us Christmas albums from Mary J. Blige, Erasure, Nick Lowe, and (no joke) Bad Religion. Without Christmas, our popular culture would be as flightless as Santa's sleigh without its red-nosed reindeer.
It's not just punk bands that find themselves in Christmas's surprisingly inclusive embrace—Handel's Messiah was first performed in April and is better suited to Easter, but it has become a staple of the Christmas season. Ancient Yule traditions mix merrily with the holiday's religious elements, nowhere more than in the carols from England and Europe (many of which, like the tune to "Good King Wenceslas," began as spring carols but were repurposed to convey wintry cheer).
To be sure, one other holiday is gaining on Christmas both culturally and commercially. Halloween, too, has its own beloved Charlie Brown special, and like Christmas, it traffics in candles and darkness, celebrations of childhood and hints of mortality. But it is in every way a thinner and less substantial holiday, the apple cider to Christmas's egg nog, the scowling pumpkin to Christmas's festive tree, a candy bar instead of a feast. ...1