- How Many Christmas Songs Has Sufjan Stevens Made?
- Why Sufjan Stevens Loves Making Christmas Music
Musicians can often be accused of ‘selling out’ when it comes to Christmas songs. While there may be an element of truth to this, there’s no doubt that some of the best Christmas songs have been sung by celebrities. Even artists who’d otherwise have no business getting within fifty feet of a Christmas song have lent their talents to bringing yuletide joy to life.
Casual fans of Sufjan Stevens may think it odd that he’s actually recorded 100 Christmas songs. After all, he’s best known for that very specific indie vibe found in movies like Call Me By Your Name. However, diehard fans know he’s one of the most prolific artists in the Christmas genre. During an interview with Vulture, Sufjan Stevens explained the real reason why he’s so in love with making Christmas music…
How Many Christmas Songs Has Sufjan Stevens Made?
Sufjan Stevens first started performing and recording Christmas songs for his friends. But he soon figured out that there was a much wider audience for his interpretations of classics and obscure carols, as well as his originals. In 2006, the “Visions of Gideon” singer released “Songs for Christmas”, a five-volume set of tracks, that was a smash amongst critics and fans. So he released a follow-up, “Silver and Gold: Songs For Christmas”, in 2012.
If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that Sufjan adores making Christmas music. And he does it his way. Often incorporating his highly stylized take on well-known pieces. But this is what makes them so special. At the time of this writing, Sufjan Stevens has performed, recorded, and released 100 Christmas songs.
In his interview with Vulture, Sufjan Stevens explained that between 2000 and 2010, he became “invested” in finding and building a catalog of Christmas music that included a ton of very obscure carols.
“It was always a very isolated moment, usually in November-December where I would get together with some friends for a week or two and we’d create without much forethought and improvise and jump into the Christmas catalog and try and create something as quickly as possible. Sort of like first thought, best thought,” Sufjan Stevens explained to Vulture.
Despite originally making these songs for his friends and family, Sufjan explained that the “archivist” in him pushed him to put these works out.
“It’s the archivist in me wanting to preserve and contain and then ultimately share the work that I had been doing that was on the periphery and for a private audience with the public audience,” he explained to Vulture.
“Everything I’m doing, recording all my work, I’m constantly thinking, Is this meant to be heard and experienced by the public? Most of it isn’t, and then a lot of it is,” He continued. “Once I start thinking about the public, that’s when packaging comes into play. Then I have a project. It gives me something to do. I start to contextualize it. I think from a library-science perspective. These Christmas EPs are an interesting kind of record of history.”
Why Sufjan Stevens Loves Making Christmas Music
Sufjan Stevens played the piano in a United Methodist Church growing up and does consider himself to be a Christian. It was during this time in his life that he really became into the music of the holiday season and deepened his appreciation for what the time of year represents.
“There is experience there with liturgical Christmas music. I’m just kind of a hymnal collector. I have Presbyterian hymns and Methodist hymns and early music books. I have a little library,” Sufjan Stevens explained during an interview with Vulture. “I would just dip into that archive whenever I was working on EPs. I like to mix that kind of stuff with more contemporary secular stuff. I think as the box sets evolve, they get more and more indulged in the secular stuff.”
During his interview with Vulture, Sufjan Stevens went on to say that he enjoys participating in the culture of Christianity and Christmas.
“The aesthetics of it, the liturgy of it, it’s a very important practice for me, but I don’t feel like it’s singular and isolating. I’m very democratic in how I live and move through the world, understanding that there are many possibilities and explanations for why we’re here,” the musician explained.
“This is just my personal practice. Christmas music gets to the heart of the dichotomy between the sacred and the profane,” he continued. “Christmas music is such a madcap genre because you get the high art, the low art, the deeply sublime, and the sacrilege. You get beautiful traditional hymns about incarnation of God’s son born in a manger surrounded by animals. That’s what I love about it, is it’s completely in the public domain at this point, and there are no rules and regulations when it comes to Christmas culture.”
Finally, Sufjan Stevens told Vulture how he appreciates how Christmas causes those who observe to grapple with their own mortality, whether they know it or not.
“The orthodoxy of the Christian story of the incarnation of God is that Jesus was created to be murdered. I think in celebrating that, we have to understand our own mortality,” he acclaimed musician explained.
“Obviously, it’s all been appropriated, and it occurs during winter, the darkest season of the year, at least for the northern hemisphere, when we are forced to contemplate death because all of the natural world is dormant and dead. In spite of that, we drag a tree into our homes and dress it up and worship it because it gives us hope, so that we can celebrate the life that we have in spite of all of the indications of mortality surrounding us. I think that’s what it’s mostly about.”