Parents often extol the joys of seeing Christmas through their children’s eyes. Watching kiddos make proud, ugly ornaments and lose it over Santa’s surprises gives even hardened adults the chance to grasp onto some small thread of wonder each December. I don’t have any little ones onto whom I might project my need for comfort and joy this season, but I do have a connection to childhood that works nearly as well: Hanson’s seminal holiday opus, Snowed In.
The only Christmas album I own,Snowed In has all the weird and endearing attributes Hanson fans and frenemies will remember of the Oklahoma pop-rock trio: cheery guitars; the kinds of pleasing harmonies only siblings can create; whiny grunts and groans; and unplaceable accents, the brothers forming vowels in convoluted shapes no vocal coach in her right mind would recommend.
The trio does infectious white-boy renditions of “What Christmas Means to Me” and “Merry Christmas Baby,” as well as an original acoustic composition “At Christmas” that isn’t half bad at tugging crusty old heartstrings. On “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” the brothers replace a guitar riff with a heavenly “doodle-oo-bop-bop” I now sing over other versions of the song. There are a few duds I skip every year, like “Everybody Knows the Claus,” a rollicking fat-shaming ditty about how Santa used to be thin before he started eating deep-fried turkey and donuts. But the brothers’ nasal voices, filled with innocence without the creepiness of actual child singers, never wear on me.
Snowed In came out in November 1997, just six months after Hanson’s wildly successful national debut, Middle of Nowhere. (It was no doubt recorded lickety-split to ride the gargantuan coattails of “MmmBop.”) I was in fourth grade; my family had just moved several states away from the town where I was born and the state the majority of my enormous, beloved extended family called home. For the better part of the next decade, we’d drive south on Dec. 23, with me and my sister barricaded into the backseat with suitcases and presents. If you can picture a teen and a tween spending a peaceful six-plus hours trapped in a metal cage less than a foot apart in the days before smartphones, a single Gameboy between them, I envy the scope of your imagination.
But when we popped Snowed In into the CD player every year, usually somewhere around the Tappan Zee bridge, there was peace on Earth as far as our minivan was concerned. My sister and I sang along and bopped in our seats well into our late teens, even once my tastes were better suited to a Discman, an Incubus album, and an impervious scowl. Snowed In let me embrace the twinkly-eyed nonsense of the holiday season, no matter how cynical my worldview. It still does.
As I’ve gotten older, wiser, and more Scrooge-like by the year, I’ve taken increasing pleasure in consuming traditional bits of holiday fanfare. The part of me that tires of being a boss bitch with a finely tuned detachment from earnest displays of joy delights in cultural relics from Christmases of my simpler youth. When I yearn to feel safe and childlike, I consume something cheesy and corny. Christmas is a marvelous excuse.
Hanson’s holiday confection can work just as well to ignite cheer in someone who doesn’t share my specific memories. The band’s wholesome, Midwestern, probably-Christian-but-not-making-a-thing-about-it vibe was made for a holiday that asks us to embrace fluffy hats, major keys, and jingling bells. Hating on 2016 has become a cliché at this point, but truly, many of us are now in dire need of the un-ironic happiness that happy music can only provide at Christmastime. Let the perpetually pubescent Hanson brothers be your guide.