John Jannuzzi

Boyz II Men and the True Meaning of Christmas

John Jannuzzi
Boyz II Men and the True Meaning of Christmas

By Jozen Cummings
Illustration by Giacomo Bagnara

I was 12 years old when Boyz II Men released their holiday album, Christmas Interpretations, in 1993. My mother bought the CD after watching Boyz II Men perform their a capella version of “Silent Night,” which is mesmerizing in its own right and serves as the album’s intro. But the song I couldn’t stop playing is “Let It Snow,” featuring Brian McKnight.

The title of the song can be misleading. If you simply type “Let It Snow” in your Google machine, you most likely get many different versions of the classic and cheerful “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” — a jazzy upbeat number that was first released in 1945. This is the “Let It Snow” your parents’ parents probably recognize and while it’s perfectly on brand for the season, no version has aged well. Snow sucks and it shouldn’t be sung about with such glee.

I have a feeling Boyz II Men and Brian McKnight knew this when they were getting ready to make their holiday album. I can see the guys in the group hearing the original and saying, “Why does this song try to make snow sound fun? Someone should make a smoother song about snow … actually we should do that! Let’s call Brian McKnight and ask him to join us!”  So they went into the recording studio and laid down what has become required listening to me for the past 24 Christmases.  

The version of “Let It Snow” I fell in love with as a kid is much more romantic and a little seductive. On their version, if you took out all the Christmas references sung by the group and McKnight, you would have a love song that sounds just as good in June as it does in December. It’s not so much Christmas music so much as it is R&B best enjoyed during Christmas.

But listening to “Let It Snow” is not enough for me, I also watch the video every year too, and not just once. Like many good Christmas movies, I must watch it multiple times. It’s like my own holiday hype tape. Every year I watch it and it brings me right back to a time when I thought the Christmas spirit could be measured by how many presents under the tree were for me.

The “Let It Snow” video shattered that perception. Instead of focusing on the holiday’s more superficial traditions, it was a celebration of togetherness through the eyes of adults. The guys are paired up with women and doing things like making snowmen, roasting marshmallows over a fire, and having co-ed snowball fights outside of a cabin they’re all staying at together. To watch this video as a pubescent kid was to see my adult goals unfold before my eyes. It made me want to grow up, rent a cabin in the woods with a special lady, and invite our friends.

But when we were kids, Christmas wasn’t about anything we see in the video. It was supposed to feel like another birthday because it gave us an excuse to unwrap presents that had our name on them. Then we got older, and Christmas became less fun. Next thing we know, we’re complaining about getting a tree because we know what it takes to get it in and out of our place; Christmas shopping leaves us broke, and Home Alone 2 is a little less enjoyable because you realize Kevin McCalister’s parents were trash not once but twice. It’s as if the only good thing about being an adult during the holidays is spiking the eggnog, and that’s assuming you’re one of the few people who even like it. 

Over the years the video has aged well because of how it shows a celebration of the Christmas spirit in analog. The piano being played by McKnight is acoustic, Shawn Stockman and Michael McCary are entertaining themselves by playing chess. The only evidence there is of electricity (well, actual electricity) is the Christmas lights in the background. It reminds me that Christmas does not need presents to be special, all it really needs is love (and R&B).