When we contemplate the music of Christmas, which surrounds us unceasingly wherever we go throughout December, we think of both the sacred and the festive. It’s a combination of the joyous and the spiritual, even for those who aren’t Christian.
There are Christmas songs that are among my favorites, and I always enjoy joining in a carol or two with other celebrants the season. However, the approaching holidays find me thinking about Christmas music that isn’t particularly inspirational. That’s because there has always been a lot of bad Christmas music out there. You might call them the silly, sad, sadistic and satirical songs of the season. I don’t mean to snow on anybody’s holiday parade here, but this can be a depressing time of the year and there are plenty of Scrooges out there who want nothing to do with it.
There have been a lot of sad and bittersweet Christmas songs going back to World War II and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” where the soldier at war vows he’ll make it “if only in my dreams.” There was “Please Come Home for Christmas” in 1950, and even Elvis’s “Blue Christmas” was mourning a sad Christmas without someone he loved.
In more recent times, we’ve had some popular Christmas songs with some seriously sad lyrics. How about, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” recorded in 1984 by a choir of celebrities known as Band Aid to raise money to combat famine in Ethiopia.
There’s a world outside your window
And it’s a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing
Is the bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there
Are the clanging chimes of doom
Well tonight, thank God it’s them instead of you.
There was a message of hope and it was for a good cause, and its overall message was moving and galvanized some serious charitable giving. Some of the sad stuff is about kids growing up in dysfunctional families like Alan Jackson’s “Please, Daddy, Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas” and John Guiak’s “Daddy’s Drinking Up Our Christmas.” These types of songs run counter to the traditional “Joy to the World’ holiday spirit.
Now who would have ever thought a loved one as the victim in a fatal accident would become a favorite Christmas novelty song? The following holiday favorite did just that:
When they found her Christmas mornin’,
At the scene of the attack.
There were hoof prints on her forehead,
And incriminatin’ Claus marks on her back.
Grandma got run over by a reindeer,
Walkin’ home from our house Christmas Eve.
You can say there’s no such thing as Santa,
But as for me and Grandpa, we believe.
There are popular seasonal songs that seemed harmless when they were written, but take a different tone today when sexual improprieties and alleged sexual assault have essentially ended the careers of some prominent men. Take “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” written by Frank Loesser in 1944, where a guy is putting the pressure on the girl to stay instead of escaping his embrace:
Girl: The neighbors might think…
Guy: Baby, it’s bad out there…
Girl: Say, what’s in this drink?
Guy: No cabs to be had out there…
Girl: I wish I knew how…
Guy: “Your eyes are like starlight now…”
Girl: To break this spell…
Guy: I’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell.
And so the wooing goes.
There is a lot of satire in Christmas music, meant to be humorous like Grandma’s encounter with the reindeer, but clearly running counter to the joy, triumph and hope we’ve come to associate with Christmas. The following song, entitled “Christmastime Is Killing Us,” was made popular on the TV show, “Family Guy,” where Santa and his elves are singing about how they’ve come to hate Christmas.
Santa sings the following verse:
Each little elf used to fill up a shelf
Making playthings and selflessly thrilling us.
Now they’re on crack and it feels like Iraq
Because Christmastime is killing us!
Santa takes a lot of hits in these Christmas songs, which excludes them from being branded sacrilegious, but some are certainly tasteless and not meant for children. For example, Tiny Tim, who had his 15 minutes of fame with a screeching rendition of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” actually recorded a song entitled “Santa Claus Has Got the AIDS This Year.” It is still regarded as one of the worst Christmas songs ever.
The aforementioned examples contain elements of the sad, silly, satirical and sadistic, but leave it to Weird Al Yankovic to come up with the most sadistic Santa song of all in “The Night Santa Went Crazy” with the opening verse:
Down in the workshop all the elves were makin’ toys
For the good Gentile girls and the good Gentile boys
When the boss busted in, nearly scared ’em half to death
Had a rifle in his hands and cheap whiskey on his breath
From his beard to his boots he was covered with ammo
Like a big fat drunk disgruntled Yuletide Rambo
And he smiled as he said with a twinkle in his eye,
“Merry Christmas to all – now you’re all gonna die!
The second verse is even more graphic and launches into a culminating FBI manhunt that lands Jolly Old St. Nicholas in the slammer on death row.
Hey, there are all kinds of Christmas songs recorded by groups like The Singing Butts, the Toilet Bowl Cleaners and the Insane Clown Posse that take satirical aim at Christmas, even ridiculing and deriding it, but in the long run the spirit of Christmas is so overwhelmingly powerful that it continues to remain a season of “Good Tidings of Comfort and Joy.”