Like a perfectly packaged present, Stray Kids’ Christmas EveL is a delightful sampling of chaotic antics, comforting warmth, and melancholic heartbreak, fitting the holiday season. While there are only three tracks and a new English version of “Domino,” the Stray Kids manage to encapsulate the Christmas spirit, and all the emotions that come along with it.

The title track “Christmas EveL” subverts expectations and paints the members as substitutes santas haphazardly bringing presents and spreading joy. Armed with a weird warping van (driven by daddy Bangchan and mommy Lee Know) the MV gets progressively meme-y, weird, and chaotic as the song progresses.

Between the retro wintery clothes, awkward rollicks through a convenience store, MV storyline, and vaguely sarcastic anti-holiday cheer, “Christmas EveL” manages to pass as an enjoyable, albeit strange, Christmas song. Rather than a pleasant frolic through the snow vis a vis “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” “Jingle Bells,” or basically any other classic holiday song that is not about sex, Stray Kids grinchily attempt to spread holiday cheer.

Hilariously, a cutscene in the middle shows the members getting caught red-handed, having accidentally woken up a young girl. The last verse before the scene describes “secretly tiptoe[ing] onto the chimney” and the sound takes on a quitter, mischievous sound. As the girl confusedly opens the door to her living room, the members turn in surprise and cautiously introduce themselves.

It is a nice light moment that really cashes in on their awkward but jovial antics throughout the MV. (Also as the members stare aghast, peep the window that shows pure bright daylight outside, not the dead of night like you would expect from good ole Saint Nick. It is hard to tell if it is an overlooked detail or just leans into how not Santa-Claus-y Stray Kids are taking on this impromptu mission from the man in red, but it does add some hilarity to the whole situation.)

The lyrics of the song are wonderfully witty and tongue in cheek with lines like “The overnight snow is pretty for just a second. Romantic? Not,” “I used to wish it would be special on this special day, but not anymore, I hope nothing ever happens,” and “Thanks to the slippery road, there’s more traffic. Thanks so much, winter.” The most memorable lines are probably “I’m burning my anxiety, not firewood” and “I don’t get a single call, only junk messages. I hate everyone,” even if it does seem like a lie coming from Changbin.

The sound of the track is edgy and loud, befitting the evil (?) bad boy vibe the members are portraying. With that being said, there are small details like little tinkly bells, sleigh bells, chimes, and traces of midi flute that still evoke sounds of a classic Christmas tune. It is certainly a far cry from something that incessantly plays in basically every single public space as soon as the clock strikes midnight on Thanksgiving. However, details of the music and the wintery, santa-esque MV give just enough nods to code this as some flavor of Christmas song.

The choruses and pre-choruses are also dangerously catchy. There is a good mix of finesse from the vocal line alongside the contrasting roughness of the rap line’s parts in the second half. Unsurprisingly, the bridge king Felix is also at it again with a punchy verse that transitions into an EDM-y and climactic remix of “Feliz Navidad.” Without returning to the chorus, the songs ends and the members seem to be summoned on their next mission, much to their chagrin.

The song that follows is the satisfyingly soft song “24 to 25.” Expressing the hopeful warmth of the season, it expresses a desire for the listener to stay and celebrate Christmas together. The lyrics are smooth and earnest, a total contrast to “Christmas EveL.” The loud instrumentals are swapped for acoustic guitars, piano, and simple drum machine sounds in the background. The vocals are on full display with even the rap line contributing simple lines to the texture.

There is not a full MV for this track, but there is a “UNVEIL : TRACK” video on JYP Entertainment’s YouTube channel with a 2 minute snippet of the song and a cozy abbreviated MV. An evergreen wreath welcomes viewers into an elaborately decorated house where the members relax and celebrate together. In between shots of Stray Kids enjoying their time doing various Christmas-y things, there are also scenes of them marveling at the falling snow while hugging each other and laughing.

There is a simplicity and comfort to this song that feels safe. The music is mostly subdued with the vocals taking central importance, and the overwhelmingly calm domestic nature of the video suits the sound well. The lyrics that give a nod to the fandom, “STAY with me,” are a smart addition that tug at the heartstrings.

The last new song on the album, “Winter Falls,” does thankfully have a full MV, and it is a complete departure from the two tracks prior. This last song is a heart wrenching melodrama that compares the feeling of snow falling with falling apart from someone you love.

The lyrical parallels are apparent, but there is also a lonely feeling that Stray Kids seem to have captured, akin to walking alone on a frigid winter day as the sky darkens and the snow falls silently around you. The stillness that accompanies that experience feels much the same as being frozen in place, grief stricken and desperate to return back to happier times. While the lyrics repeat “I’m ok. Yeah, I’ll be okay,” there is also a sense of “how long will it take before I feel ok?” and “everything has changed except for me.”

As the song progresses, the verses go through stages of grief from disbelief to sadness to anger, with each member representing a different emotion. After each has cycled through their stage of grief, the last scene shows all of them meeting together and encountering a door aflame. The frigid falling snow becomes mixed with rises ashes “burning everything” as they “end this as it is” and “all that remains is ash.” They move to acceptance and as the flames burn brighter, their pensive glances give way to hesitant smiles. There is a sadness behind their eyes that juxtaposes their acceptance, a feeling that resonates with anyone who has had their heart shattered, whether by a lover, death, or life altering event.

The music that accompanies the MV is simple and hauntingly beautiful, and the structure of the song is fairly straightforward. The instrumentals are relatively subdued, and while the choruses are more cinematic with busier drum sounds, harmonies, and synthesizer patches, the members’ vocals are mostly forefront in the sound. One of the most effective features of the song is the contrast between these more driving, thematic choruses and the thoughtful, sad verses. During the verses, the instrumentals actually thin out, accompanied mostly by acoustic guitar and simple drum set lines, adding to the feeling of loneliness that the members paint a picture of through the lyrics.

Honestly, there is something profoundly powerful about Stray Kids portraying feelings of grief in what is otherwise an upbeat Christmas album. While the holidays are times of celebration and light, they are also reminders of family, love, and times long lost.

While Stray Kids’ Christmas EveL is only three songs, they express three entirely different emotions befitting the holiday season. The title track is weird and mischievous, but carries on the album story built from previous releases while the two following tracks explore warm celebration and icy loss. While it is technically a holiday release, the songs make for remarkably diverse, heartfelt additions to Stray Kids’ overall discography, and I, for one, will be adding the whole album to my regular holiday rotation going forward.

(YouTube, Images via JYP Entertainment)