Hamilton songwriter Alex Whorms shares secrets behind your favourite Christmas music

Hamilton songwriter Alex Whorms shares secrets behind your favourite Christmas music

Alex Whorms is the Hamilton-based singer-songwriter and score composer behind the newly released single Christmas Morning — which is included in CBC Music’s Best New Holiday Music list.

Whorms — pronounced warms, like warming by the fire, she noted — sat down with CBC Hamilton and CBC Music to chat about holiday music and fun facts about the songs heard this time of year. 

“Did you know that Jingle Bells wasn’t even written about Christmas?” Whorm said.

“It totally still counts as a Christmas song, but there isn’t a single mention of Christmas time, the month of December or of Christmas trees. It was actually written around Thanksgiving by James Pierpont in 1857 about an annual sleigh-riding event, and was originally published as The One Horse Open Sleigh before being retitled.”

Whorms loves discussing Christmas music history.

“Many Christmas songs are actually written in the summer in order to be ready in advance of the winter season,” she said. “Justin Bieber’s Christmas album Under the Mistletoe was written in August, and to get into the spirit, he ordered boxes and boxes of Christmas cookies to the recording studio.”

Whorms laughed and said she felt jealous. “Where do you get Christmas cookies in the summer, I would like to know.”

Whorms stayed in Hamilton after moving from Pickering, Ont., in 2015 to study at McMaster University. (Michael To/CBC)

Whorms’s research also found some songs have had a polarizing love-hate history. They include Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime, and Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer by Randy Brooks.

“People were really divided over those songs. Some listeners didn’t like the instrumentation of Christmastime and its departure from tradition, but I love how interesting it sounds,” Whorms said.

“With Grandma, I think a lot of people thought the image of a drunken grandparent during Christmas wasn’t appropriate, but the dark humour resonated with the people who loved it.”

Whorms said that when she thinks of Christmas music, she envisions sleigh bells, string quartets, choirs or carollers — musical clues that represent the Christmas season and can clue you into what makes a song, even if it isn’t about Christmas.

“A good Christmas song will suck you into the holiday spirit and make you feel excited for the season — the songs that you can spin on a record player and listen to while enjoying hot tea in front of a fireplace.”

University student turned musician

Whorms moved to Hamilton from Pickering, Ont., in 2015 to study at McMaster University, and has remained in Hamilton. Like a true Hamiltonian, she prefers to call the escarpment “the mountain.”

“My favourite thing to do for Christmas is to shop on James Street and Locke to find unique gifts,” Whorms said. “I really enjoy the Christmas markets that happen in the city, the arts and the events that happen year round.

“There were many turning points for me before becoming a musician. I tried to have a band and get into medicine, and started to get more music work before that tour at [the University of Toronto].”

She said she realized the medical field didn’t appeal to her while touring the biophysics department at the U of T, and through some help from the music department at McMaster, she began her new career.

“Over time, I just broke off and took a course [at Humber College] for music composition. People were hiring me to play music and they were paying me more than any entry-level undergrad science job would.”

When asked about her inspiration for Christmas Morning, she said, “Music has been a huge part of my life … and I wanted to write a song about what the Christmas season means to me — the opportunity to go back home and spend time with my friends and family.”