I was introducing Baroque music to a friend, and trying to make it less intimidating, I jokingly said, "You've heard this before, Christmas shopping at Macy's." My friend laughed, but I started to wonder why that association existed.

Is it just me, or is the association real? I didn't find much online. The Worcester Chamber Music Society says, advertising a now-past program, "Two of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos raise the Christmas spirits as only Bach can!" An event listing site called Early Music America includes a listing that says, "Nothing says Christmas like a beautiful package of Baroque musical jewels." But that's just evidence of the association, and not very much evidence at that.

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    I have never associated Baroque music with Christmas and neither did I know that any other person would have such an association. Anyway if someone has such an association it would obviously be real for that person, but only as a subjective reality. Jan 19, 2020 at 21:14

4 Answers 4


At least in Germany, you'll find some performance of Bach's Christmas oratorio in basically any larger town during the holiday time. There'll also be some lesser known variants, like the Christmas oratorio of Heinrich Schütz.

The special case of a Christmas oratorio did not gather a whole lot of traction in times after the Baroque, so the usual season-specific performances will tend to be in the baroque spirit.

It's also the season of Eastern European street musicians who interrupt their music professorships to come scare the heebie bejeebies out of the local performers in the West. A cultural common denominator for small ensembles with classical instruments playing "pleasing" music does happen to be Baroque music. The conservatories in Russia certainly have Bach in their curricula.

Regarding Christmas season music, instrumental music tends to work better than singing for busking since you don't get shooed away as fast and are less obtrusive.


Baroque music is for life, not just for Christmas.

Your association of baroque music with Christmas is probably because of the increased prominence of church music in the mainstream listening palette at that of year, although unaccompanied sacred vocal music spans a far wider time period than the period usually referred to as the baroque.

Bach's Christmas Oratorio and Handel's Messiah are deservedly popular at that time of year which may have also created the association.

  • I associate Handel's Messiah with Easter. Well, actually a stronger association I have with this work is some movements with violin parts that I love to play. I have participated in many performances of this work always with all three parts. Sometimes at Christmas time someone makes a permance that ends with the Hallelujah Chorus which is the end of the second part. But then you miss the Bass Air: "The Trumpet shall sound" (sometimes referred to as "The Trumpet Air") and the great Amen Chorus, well the whole third part. Jan 21, 2020 at 21:57

One aspect not yet mentioned is, that some of the instruments easily associated with the sheperds of the Christmas story, such as recorder or traverse flute (not the modern concert flute, but the wooden predecessor without any keys) fell out favour in the late baroque era and had to be rediscoverd for some different than children learners in the second half of the twentieth century.

France had special Noëls, played e.g. by the organ during christmas mass, from which some baroque examples are well-known (as thos from d'Aquin).

While appropriatness for sheperds would also apply to hurdy-gurdy and bagpipe (which had their peak during Renaissance), there is little to none classical repertoire for them.

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    Agreed that the recorder fell out of use after the baroque period, but the transverse flute has been a constant presence throughout the classical repertoire both as the soloist in concertos and as a part of the woodwind section of the classical orchestra. Jan 21, 2020 at 6:59
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    The transverse flute continues to have a prominent role in 20th-21st-century concert band music (both compositions and arrangements of more famous works) to boot.
    – Dekkadeci
    Jan 21, 2020 at 12:11

Is it just me, or is the association real?

Perhaps there is some association, but it seems more like Baroque is just one of several options for Christmas background music.

You can also find rock and roll Christmas and jazz Christmas soundtracks. Similarly, Baroque music gets used as a soundtrack for just about anything needing a sense of propriety, high-culture, tradition, etc.

You could swap out the Baroque with lesser known Mozart works and almost no one would notice the difference.

I suppose there is a certain abstractness to Baroque music - compared with the symbolism and tone poem type stuff of later styles - which lends it to work as unobtrusive background music. But not exclusively Christmas background music.

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