Ok, so for a silly post this season, since things have been a bit on the drab, gray, slightly more challenging side, I am going to air some grievances against some well known Christmas songs, and also list my favorites.
First, my list of slightly creepy Christmas songs:
“Santa Baby” is only allowed one play a year, and it must be the Eartha Kitt version. This song has always bothered me a little, not just for the blatant materialism, but also for the not-so-implied sexuality of the song. He’s a married man! All he wants in return for his generosity is cookies and milk, not some sugar. (See what I did there?) “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and “Let It Snow” both have some weird, “You’re trapped here with me now” villain type feels to them. I don’t know that I caught this vibe until I got older and heard the woman ask “What’s in this drink?” Say what!? Why are we playing this on the radio, guys? Think of the children!
(But in all honesty, I’m not gonna judge you for liking these songs. I will judge you for drinking egg nog before Thanksgiving, but not for these songs.)
Second, my list of depressing Christmas songs:
If you are the kind of person who enjoys the song “Christmas Shoes” you may want to look into some therapy. Christmas is a time of year that cause some to experience feelings of loneliness and depression. So why in the name of all that is jolly would people write thoroughly depressing Christmas songs!? It’s Christmas! “Christmas Shoes” starts off well enough, but then takes a sharp turn into Sadville when the kid is shown to be buying some shoes for his dying mother. Did these songwriters go to the Disney school of plot development? “Ok, class. First thing about a good plot, at least one parent has to die early, preferably the mom, but the dad will do in a pinch. If you can kill off both of them, extra points.” Along these same lines is “Coventry Carol,” which, if you haven’t heard, includes an entire stanza about Herod killing all of the baby boys after Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus escaped to Egypt. I’m not even joking on that one. The melody, once probably a lullaby, suddenly takes on this dark, threatening tone implying to all who hear it “You’re next!” Technically, that piece of the story comes several years after the birth of Jesus proper, so why even include it!? “Oh yeah, in case you’re having too much fun and sleeping too soundly, just remember that king who killed a bunch of children. Sleep tight!” Depending on who you are, “I’ll be Home for Christmas” can be a real tear-jerker, especially Josh Groban’s recording that includes messages from soldiers who were overseas at the time and would miss Christmas. (Cue uncontrollable sobs.)
Third, a song that has always confused me: “I Saw Three Ships.” It’s a catchy melody that will get stuck in your head, and I have looked up the answer to my question every year and forget in the intervening months, but why are Mary, Jesus, and Joseph on a boat? Here’s the Wikipedia entry on the song, in case you are curious. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Saw_Three_Ships
Fourth, songs that I have to hear for it to be Christmas:
There are several of these, so bear with me. The most recent additions to this list are several that I sang in college: “Personent Hodie,” “O Magnum Mysterium” (Robert Shaw), “All is Well,” and “Bogoroditse Devo.” Each of these pieces are glorious pieces that capture the wonder and beauty of Christmas in voice, and I highly recommend them to you. Even without training in Latin or Russian (yes, Russian) you can get lost in the almost tangible texture of these songs, which seems appropriate as we’re celebrating the Word made flesh in the incarnation. I don’t enjoy everything Trans-Siberian Orchestra has to offer, but “Christmas Canon,” “Christmas/Sarajevo 12/24,” and “Dreams of Fireflies” are staples of my listening this time of year. “Dreams of Fireflies” is a modern arrangement of Vivaldi, which makes my heart happy. “O Holy Night” is a must, if for no other reason than my parents have sung it so many times that I will probably never forget that song. For the longest time, I didn’t trust anyone else to sing this song. One, my parents did it best, in my opinion. Second, it’s a deceptively difficult song to sing well. (Also, did you know it was French originally?)
Fifth, whole albums that will be played:
And here are the collections that must be played in their entirety in my house. In a tie for first place are Dolly Parton’s Home for the Holidays and John Denver’s Rocky Mountain Christmas. Dolly’s album was what my dad played every Christmas morning as my brother and I crawled out of bed on Christmas morning and opened gifts with my parents. The sounds of that album just give me a warm feeling of being home. My mother would have John Denver’s album on most times when I rode with her around Christmas time. We would practice harmonies against his melody and I gained an appreciation for a mostly unadorned melody performed well and simply. My dad also enjoyed Harry Connick, Jr’s “When My Heart Finds Christmas” which I also play during this season. I never watched the show, but the Downton Abby Christmas Album is full of wonderful classical renditions of many of the traditional carols. And for those more adventurous among you, try out “Sing We Noel” by the Boston Camerata – it’s a trip down the pre-industrial memory lane of England and Early America. (It is not for everyone, though.)
And getting the last slot and very little thought are the songs that annoy me:
“All I Want for Christmas is You,” could disappear and I would not bat an eye. “The Little Drummer Boy” has always puzzled me as to its popularity – pa rum pa pum pum. I think “Santa Baby” and “Christmas Shoes” would also fall nicely into this category, as well. And “My Favorite Things.” Why is this played at Christmas? It’s from a musical that has next to nothing to do with Christmas, especially in context.
So What’s your favorite Christmas song or album? What Christmas song has you continually confused, depressed, or angry?
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