Building a Better Carol
Originally posted: December 21, 2003
I read an article, recently, which lamented that there had been no new "classic Christmas songs" written since 1955. I guess that anything which doesn't feature either classical descant or sweet-and-sleepy jazz structure straight out of Irving Berlin doesn't qualify as "classic." Apparently the use of musical aesthetic younger than your grandmother immediately disqualifies a song from being "classic" unless it's by Eric Clapton. (Although I did find one Christmas song site that listed Stan Rogers' 1979 First Christmas. Lovely piece, but depressing beyond belief.) The article went on to whine that only "parodies and humorous songs" had been added to the repetoire in any significant numbers. While I can forgive (and even encourage) the skipping over of such modern Christmas "classics" as Don't They Know It's Christmas-time? by Band-Aid and that ilk, I must protest that the most awful lack in Christmas songs is not modernism, but realistic weather. (Well, realism of any kind, but I'll get to that.)
How many people really live where they might encounter a true "Winter Wonderland" during the holidays and not a car-splashed slush pile at best, much more a brown-edged lawn under-watered due to drought beneath a smog-tinged sky? And what of people in the Southern Hemisphere? Australians all over the continent surely look at each other with irony and wonder why there aren't more Christmas songs about surfing and barbecuing and opening your prezzies beneath a cloudless, blue sky while you slather on the sunscreen.
Where I live, it rains all Winter. But are there songs describing Santa's little rain slicker or Nicky-the-non-skid-reindeer? No. Not a single one.
And what's so celebratory about snow, anyhow? Especially if you live with it all Winter long, as it is. Do you ever hear a real person talk about the joy of travelling through the snow to Grandma's House, anymore? Not too likely; most of them are complaining bitterly about the jackass in an SUV who cut them off and caused them to skid into a ditch hidden under 6 feet of semi-frozen sludge. Snow is for skiers, snowboarders and people who don't have to be anywhere.
Let's face it, the charm of Christmas songs is that they celebrate things most of us have never done, will never do, have no real interest in, and would hate like fire and skunk-juice in the eyes if we ever did have to do them. Do you really want to go trudging off into the frozen wastes to find a tree of sufficient size to chop down, drag home and burn continuously for 12 days? No? Me, neither: strike off the Yule Log, please. Wassailing? Frankly, I prefer to know what's in my glass and not to drink directly from the punch bowl along with the rest of the choir and who-knows-who-else. Bit unsanitary and disgusting for my taste. And that bunch of birds and guests and total weirdness in The Twelve Days of Christmas makes me very glad we've mostly cut it down to a week, now. (OK, it's only one actual day, but it feels like a week and New Year's is still damned weird, but that's for another day.)
Really, a lot of Christmas songs ought to scare the crap out of you. Yeah, sure, they "Wish you a Merry Christmas," but they also demand dessert, drinks and entertainment and say they "won't go until they get some!" I've sung in choirs and I wouldn't "give some" to your average scruffy caroler no matter how much they begged and pleaded, though, I know I'd want most of them out of my house long before any food arrived if I planned on eating, myself.
And Santa Claus is a frightening dude! (Is it any wonder most little kids are scared piss-less of him when encountered at the Mall?) Not only is he all hair and beard (gotta wonder what he's hiding under there...), but he's psychic: after all, he knows when you are sleeping and he knows when you're awake; he knows if you've been bad or good... and that could be a serious source of blackmail (a concept almost-instinctually understood by younger siblings from birth).
Not only that, he runs down little old ladies! Grandma got run over by a reindeer,y'know, and you can bet that it wasn't the deer's fault (let's not blame the vehicle for the driver's actions, now.) He's a philandering pig,too, running around letting Mommy kiss him when we know he's already married to Mrs. Claus. Good, God... what sort of diseases must be spread by that! (At least it's not Daddy kissing Santa Claus, is all I can say.)
Beyond all that, many Christmas songs are entirely unrealistic. Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men? Would be nice, but not very likely (at least not as long as Humans are involved.) Flying reindeer with glowing noses? Last time I looked into it, the FAA wasn't too sold on the safety of such a vehicle and neither was the SPCA. I'm not even sure that dashing through the woods in a one-horse, open sleigh is even legal any more. And some kid somewhere wants a hippopotamus, another wants his two front teeth? Who are these strange children? I want a piece of flashy jewelry and a night at a good hotel with room service, a huge tub and a fur throw on the bed. Santa Baby is a bit more my speed, I think, but only if Santa has been working out, lately, and lays off the cookies and milk for a while (and brings his own rubbers because, well... there is still that Mommy-kissing incident.... Ewwwww...!)