Christmas Songs: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Yes, it is that time of year when the melodic and not-so-melodic strains of holiday music once again fill our supermarkets and shopping malls.  Some of these strains bring back tender memories of Christmases past, and some instantly have me wincing and cringing in horror.

Probably my least favorite of all Christmas songs is Twelve Days of Christmas. That song is a never-ending nightmare.  And I cannot describe the pity I feel for the poor victim whose lover gave to her a partridge in a pear tree, maids milking cows, lords leaping all over the furniture, turtle doves, French hens, calling birds, and geese – I mean – can you imagine the mess?! The song doesn’t say anything about her lover giving her a zookeeper to feed these many creatures, or to clean up the mountains of crap that will surely accumulate in the poor woman’s home.  Her house is going to look like the bottom of a hamster cage – only bigger.

Even the five gold rings – unless they have sapphires, emeralds, and rubies the size of ostrich eggs attached to them – do not make up for the trouble caused by the other “gifts.”

I also cringe at songs sung by pop stars that talk of grandmas getting run over by reindeer, and drunken daddies. They just don’t capture the spirit of the season for me.

My favorite religious Christmas song is Silent Night.  Whenever I hear that song I picture the British and German soldiers singing it to each other across the trenches of World War I in a moment of determined peace one Christmas Eve. I picture rosy-cheeked children’s faces lit by the soft golden light of hand-held candles in a church somewhere in Switzerland, cozy and warm inside while snow falls softly outside the church. I picture the night of a baby’s birth – any baby’s birth – and the sacred innocence and promise of new life. Silent Night is a song of hope.

In the category of non-religious Christmas songs, I really enjoy John Denver’s Aspenglow  (what can I say? I really liked John Denver – so call me “schmaltzy”), Sarah MacLachlan’s Song for a Winter’s Night, and any Christmassy song by Lareena McKennitt.

But maybe my favorite Christmassy song is Dar Williams’s Christians and the Pagans. You have to admit, these lyrics are pretty hard to beat:

“So the Christians and the pagans sat together at the table,

Finding faith and common ground, the best that they were able,

And just before the meal was served, hands were held and prayers were said,

Sending hope for peace on earth to all their gods and goddesses…

And where does magic come from? I think magic’s in the learning,

‘Cause now when Christians sit with pagans only pumpkin pies are burning.”

Yes, ready or not, like it or not – the Christmas season is upon us – and coming with it, in elevators and supermarkets everywhere, will be  the good, the bad, and the ugly in holiday music.


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