Thursday, December 2, 2010

Tis the season for earworm.

Before I get started -- a very Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish readers!

Every year, one of our local radio stations seems to feel it's their duty to assault us nonstop with Christmas carols. Beginning on the day after Thanksgiving and continuing straight through until the day after Christmas, they play nothing but Christmas carols and commercials.

I don't mind Christmas music. I celebrate Christmas. It comes with the territory. Some of it's quite lovely; my husband and I are big fans of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, for example, and I wouldn't mind hearing their Christmas albums on a daily basis. The old classics are generally quite acceptable -- "Jingle Bells" and "Deck the Halls" and whatnot. And I love the religious carols. "O Holy Night" is probably my favorite of those.

But then you have that other group of carols...the kitschy, modern ones. And yes, I realize that many bloggers and video producers and other people with internet connections and opinions have a tendency to produce a list of carols they hate. So to counterbalance the negativity, I'm going to list just three carols I loathe and three carols I love. Feel free to leave comments agreeing or disagreeing with my choices, but here's how I react.

Three Christmas Songs I Hate

1. Up On The Housetop

A commercial for a clothing store -- is it Old Navy? I don't pay close enough attention to remember -- is partially responsible for my hatred of this song, which I first learned in fourth grade choir. They use a particular recording in which the woman's voice sounds like she's phoning in the performance, and it grates on my ears. But the lyrics themselves are really kind of dumb. I realize that what the song is actually asking is "Who wouldn't go ho ho ho?" but the way it's arranged, it sounds like it's asking "Who wouldn't go up on the housetop?" And since I have an almost crippling fear of heights, I can unequivocally say that I wouldn't.

2. Sleigh Ride

I seem to be in the vast minority with my distaste for this song. A friend pointed out that it has nostalgic value, and I suppose that's true. But to me, a lot of it just doesn't make a whole lot of sense, starting with the part about friends calling yoo-hoo. Yes, it rhymes, but I've never heard anyone use the phrase "yoo-hoo" unless they were referring to a chocolate soft drink. And there's something strange to me about the verse where the sleigh riders go to "a birthday party at the home of Farmer Gray," which they think will end their day perfectly. Were they even invited to this party? If they were, how come they're not on a first-name basis with the host?

3. The Christmas Shoes

This is the only song I have ever heard which has nearly incited me to violence. 'Syrupy' doesn't begin to describe it. If you have somehow managed to avoid this lyrical travesty, let me explain. A cynical man is standing in line to buy something on Christmas Eve when he takes notice of the heartwarming ragamuffin who is desperately trying to pay for a pair of women's shoes, which he explains to the clerk are for his dying mother. He wants her to look beautiful "if Mama meets Jesus tonight." The cynic is so moved by the situation that he pays for the shoes, to the child's delight, and walks out of the store a changed man. It annoys me for reasons I can hardly begin to list. For starters, why is this kid out shopping alone on Christmas Eve instead of, say, at home with his dying mother? If I were the mom in this story, I'd want my son where I could see him, not out trying to buy me a pair of shoes I'm not going to live long enough to enjoy. Throw in the sappy words, the eerie chorus of children's voices, and the fact that they made a movie based on this song, and the sum total of it...hurts my brain.

Let me cheer myself up, fast.

Three Christmas Songs I Love

1. Bethlehem, PA

Not many people are familiar with this song, which appears on an album called "Truckers' Christmas." It gets a lot of play around here, though, mainly because I live a stone's throw from the real Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. A truck driver is out on a run when his pregnant wife calls to say that the baby's coming, and he gets lost in a blizzard trying to make it home. An angel comes to his rescue, and he arrives in the city of Bethlehem to greet his child, who was born in the early hours of Christmas morning. It's kind of sappy, it's a little goofy, and it's adorable. It has charm, while "The Christmas Shoes" is just pure schmaltz.

2. This Christmas Day

This is one of those Trans-Siberian Orchestra songs I was talking about, and truthfully, it doesn't make a great deal of sense out of context. The album, "Christmas Eve and Other Stories," tells the story of an angel looking for the Christmas spirit on earth. The story-within-the-story is about a teenaged girl who ran away from home after a fight with her father, and the angel's machinations help to get her back home. This song, which may be my favorite on the album, is from the father's point of view, expressing his relief and gratitude for his child's safe return. Interestingly, he's expressing these feelings to Christmas itself. "For of all the dreams, you were the first I knew, and every other one was a charade of you. You stayed close when I was far away. And in the darkest night, you always were the star; you always took us in, no matter who we are." It's...gorgeous.

3. Silent Night

No explanations here. You want to feel Christmas? Listen to this being sung in the original German around midnight on Christmas Eve. The English words are lovely, but the German gets me every time.

Now tell me your thoughts on Christmas music!


  1. As someone who works in D&A, there is no doubt in my mind that "The Christmas Shoes" is about a crackhead kid scamming suckers with some sad story about his "dying mother."

  2. Loathed:
    1. This one's pretty wretched, but I think I hate Here Comes Santa Claus even more.
    2. In answer to your questions: I think the lyrics are "you who," which people generally only say if they're trying to find someone who is hiding: "You who! Anybody home?"; Farmer Gray isn't referred to as Farmer Bob because this song was written during a time when you didn't call anybody you respected by their first name unless they were a child or a spouse.
    3. Never heard it, but sounds like I'm better off.

    My favorite carol is probably The Holly and the Ivy, the minor-key version of the melody. It's haunting and beautiful. I love Coventry Carol for similar reasons. O Little Town of Bethlehem is nice too. The melody is far more interesting than most.

  3. Unfortunately they play some very awful and very irritating Christmas music at my job the last few days before we're off :(


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