It is exceptionally hard in the modern day for brand new, original songs to get added to the holiday music canon. This one, which is among my favorite Christmas songs ever, deserves to have a place in it.

Christmas EP
Low
“Just Like Christmas”

At the center is a fundamental contradiction. “Just Like Christmas” is about the true spirit of the holiday having nothing to do with typical material trappings like the snowy weather, and everything to do with the precious moments spent alongside those we love...yet the music accompanying the singing is some of the snowiest-sounding instrumentation ever committed to tape.

And my good lord, with its combination of low-key drum machine, copious amounts of sleigh bells, and ethereal electric organ, what a gorgeous performance this is. In order to attempt fully getting across its impact, I was reminded of musician YouTuber Adam Neely’s breakdown of (bear with me now) what characterizes vaporwave, i.e. that the timbre of everything in “Just Like Christmas”—how it all sounds—is precisely tailored to embody hypnagogia, the surreal period between being awake and being asleep. It’s a splendid fit for Low’s spiritual rumination on Christmas.

And still, there lies the inherent contradiction mentioned before; the wintry sounds that fit the mood so well are still at odds with the lyrics. The more I think about it, however, the more I think that it does actually make sense in regards to the holiday season.

Whenever I think of Christmas, all of those physical, material things—the snow, the tree, the lights, the decorations, the presents, the eggnog, the apple cider, the shops and restaurants and buildings as a whole rearranging themselves for the season, and of course the songs—have always been inextricably linked to the holiday in my mind, and always will be.

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Many of these things even make me happy in their own right! Winter is my favorite season. And I am a real sucker for a good Christmas light display in the evening; one of my favorite sights in the whole world has always been streets just being set ablaze in a rainbow of colors around this time of the year, perhaps in a place like Red Bank, New Jersey.

Even then, however, they are all mere backdrops to the things about this time of year that truly make me the happiest. I like the freezing cold and the snow on its own, for example, but they mean so much more because of all the fun and wonderful times—the sledding, the snowball fights, the long walks in snowy forests around campus grounds, even just staying warm indoors in good company—that I’ve spent with friends and family.

And what makes me happiest about putting up the tree, lights, and decorations is how it’s all part of the act of dedicating time and effort to literally making a home look all pretty and festive, all purely just because we’re able to do it and it makes us happy. This past weekend, my girlfriend and I bought some lights and ornaments, and we put them on a decorative tree that we’ve had in our apartment for months now, essentially re-purposing it for Christmas. Seeing the final result, it just made me so happy.

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I did not expect that I would feel that way. Decorating our place was not my idea; it was hers. Yet I was the one who seemed to get the most satisfaction out of it. I’m pretty sure I know why. This was my first year ever putting up Christmas decorations in my home without my parents. In that way, it was a minor adulthood milestone! And I got to make that happen along with my girlfriend. Our cute little tree thus stands as a memento to that moment.

I think of the contradiction in “Just Like Christmas” from a similar angle. The snow-heavy instrumentation is all of the touchstones inextricably linked to the holiday season. Everything else about the song is a reminder that they are not solely where the truest joys are found. Those come from the time spent with others. Everything else is, at most, the setting for those moments. It could be the snowfall in Stockholm; by the same token, it could be a small bed in Oslo.

RedStripe Loved Trax—originally from days of Tumblr past—is usually a series about the music Justin adores, with special emphasis on songs from (or introduced by) video games and anime. This week, however, running from Sunday December 3 to Saturday December 9, is a daily rundown of favorite songs related to the holiday season.