Ep. 19: What IS it about Christmas Music?! Love it or not, why the response? with psychologist Dr. Krystine Batcho

Christmas music

December 2, 2019

There is nothing like holiday music to immediately put me in the holiday spirit! For me, that means Christmas, with its cultural and religious celebrations, bookended by Thanksgiving and New Year’s. The best way to describe this holiday mood seems to be the term nostalgia, and nostalgia can definitely be bittersweet.  It seems to peak around the holidays and it is universal: it crosses cultures, age and economic demographics, and historical periods.

Why does holiday music immediately make some of us happy, and why does it annoy others? Learn more about both the bitter and sweet of nostalgia, with psychologist Dr. Krystine Batcho.

Dr. Krystine Batcho
Dr. Krystine Batcho


With us today from Syracuse, NY, is nostalgia expert Dr. Krystine Batcho, a professor of psychology at Le Moyne College in New York. She is a regular expert contributor on the Psychology Today website. Her scholarly publications have been widely cited, and she is frequently interviewed by the media on topics of current interest.


  • Peak years for nostalgia= early adulthood (lot of significant changes=psychological assault on that sense of identity at that time —go off to college, start their jobs, get married)
  • Even a child as young as four years old can be nostalgic.

Benefits of nostalgia:

  • Continuity/identity/grounding: helps people maintain a constant sense of who they are. Helpful if something traumatic occurs; sense of nostalgia helps link you to your own personal past; it helps you remember who you have been.
  • Relationships/feel connected: nostalgia helps us maintain connections, sense of belonging.
  • Unifying: We feel connected to a past and to other people across time & cultures, it is a uniting phenomenon. People of faith experience unity in the beliefs celebrated during this time.
  • Salve: everything about the holidays centers around relationships. In a way, holidays bring together people when they cannot be together. Nostalgia is almost like a psychological substitute for the real thing (“I’ll Be Home for Christmas”=helps re-unite us across time and space); good memories re: time spent with deceased help us to cope with loss.
  • Nostalgia promotes charitable intentions and behavior

Bittersweet: If your response to holiday music is primarily negative/bitter rather than sweet, identify where your irritation comes from.  It could bring reminders of unhappy Christmases past; it could signify the anniversary of a loss; it could be satiation (hearing the same songs ad nauseum). Then consider the following tips:

  • Find holiday music you do like or can learn to like. Start a new holiday music tradition. Consider recent holiday albums by Sarah McLachlan, Ingrid Michaelson, John Legend.
  • Redemptive qualities: Dr. Batcho describes how to look for the personal growth opportunities, ways to move forward, in both the bitter and the sweet. Negative, bitter feelings can be incredibly helpful. Research shows nostalgia strongly correlates with optimism and hope.
  • The holidays facilitate reaching out to others, which has been shown to be one of the best ways to counter depression, isolation, loneliness.


Dr. Batcho invites us to take advantage of the holidays to remember holiday music we loved when younger, and then reflect on them. 

  • Why did you love those songs so much?
  • Can you recapture the feelings you had then?
  • What did they mean to you then, and what do they mean to you now?
  • How is that meaning part of who you have become? 
  • Revive that meaning to discover your authentic self and move forward.

Then, connect your personal experience of holiday music with its social meaning.  Holiday music has a special ability to unite people.  Like nostalgia, it counteracts loneliness and reweaves the threads that keep us a part of the greater social circle.

Connect with the ones important to you (family, friends, community).  Share favorite holidays songs and the memories they trigger.


Listeners can connect with Dr. Batcho and her work in any of the following ways:

 Additional Resources


When I was young, people went from home to home singing Christmas carols.  I can still hear the bell ringing that heralded their coming.  I remember three generations of carolers all bringing joy to everyone.  One carol they always sang was “Heaven and Earth.”

Every holiday our family sang holiday songs together.  As the years passed and we lost family members, the circle became smaller and smaller.  Now, memories of those family sessions keep our loved ones alive and remind us that they are part of who we have become. Your listeners can create their own legacy by passing a tradition on  to the next generation.

Listener Improv

Thank you, Listeners, for joining us today. A special thank-you to our Listener Improv contributor today – Julie says: “This sounds a little cheesy, because it is their slogan, but KTIS (my local Christian radio station) really is “uplifting and encouraging.” Having KTIS playing makes me focus on what’s really important instead of the petty annoyances that are easy to focus on.” Julie and I both live in the Twin Cities area, where KTIS is broadcast. Neither of us are affiliated with the station, this is NOT a paid ad, but I also am a fan of KTIS – they have great people there and inspiring programming – they certainly enhance lives with music. If you’re in the Twin Cities area, you can listen at 98.5 FM. And I think ANYone can listen online at myktis.com. I know they play a lot of Christmas music this time of year, so check it out if you love Christmas and also if you’re interested in discovering new Christmas music and starting a new tradition in that way. When I just pulled up their website, there was a Steven Curtis Chapman Christmas song playing that I didn’t recognize as a traditional xmas song or carol, I just knew it was Christmas-related because of the title. Thanks again, Julie. Send me YOUR Improv – a Try-This-At-Home, experiment, or hack — a practical, concrete way YOU enhance life with music. I would love to hear from you!  Leave a comment below, comment on social media (I’m on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn), or send me an email (mindy@mpetersonmusic.com). 

Musical Gift Guides

If all the Christmas music has you thinking about Christmas shopping, check out the Enhance Life with Music Gift Guide. There are ideas on there that will inspire and create memories with music. I don’t receive any compensation or commission for these items – they’re just some fun things that caught my eye. I do plan to update it regularly by adding to it — I have not done that since posting it last week. I was out of town/in Chicago for the Thanksgiving weekend — and side note, our family went to see Hamilton, which I absolutely loved. I was a little skeptical because of all the hype, but it exceeded my expectations and I loved every second of it. So, I have not made any updates to the gift guide, but I am posting a link to the recently published Schmitt Music Gift Guide. There are some great ideas in there. 

Schmitt Music Gift Card Drawing

And – Schmitt Music has a gift for one of you listeners! They have again donated a gift card to be given away to a listener. To be entered into the $20 gift card drawing, simply share Enhance Life with Music podcast on Facebook or Instagram OR write a review in whatever podcast app you use. Email a screenshot of your share or review to mindy@mpetersonmusic.com by the end of the day (11:59 pm CT) this Sunday, December 8, 2019, to be entered in the drawing. Schmitt is a music store headquartered here in the Twin Cities, with stores in seven states. It has been family owned since it started in the late 1800s and it has a huge selection! Schmitt has one of the largest selections of pianos in the nation, and has the best selection of woodwind, brass and orchestral string instruments in the Midwest!  If you ARE thinking about buying an instrument in time for Christmas, heads-up that Schmitt does have its biggest band and orchestra instrument sale of the year coming up on December 14 (Schmitt Music Selection Event Flyer).  Thank you so much for listening today, for sharing the show, and for sharing your tips on how you enhance life with music. If you enjoy the show, please subscribe, rate, and review in whatever podcatcher you use – and tell a friend! Until next week, may your life be enhanced with music.

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