There are so many fabulous and important cultural celebrations happening this December (Hanukkah, Yule, Bodhi Day… the list of festivities goes on), and despite which one(s) you choose to celebrate, we think there’s one thing we can all agree on: the holiday accompanied by the most relentless and overwhelmingly naff songs is Christmas.
As a society, no matter who we are or where we go, we are plagued by Christmas songs from November 1st through to New Year’s Eve. So, it seems fitting to share our two cents on some of the most well-known Christmas jingles…
I find it quite amusing that, as an artsy person, the ‘quality’ of a song really isn’t a priority when deciding whether it is my favourite or not. Or at least, it definitely isn’t when it comes to Christmas songs. With Christmas songs, there is such an intense feeling of nostalgia linked to all the jingle jangling, that all that really matters is how I felt in the memory it dredges (sometimes quite reluctantly) up from my subconscious. In fact, when I think about it, I seem to have a memory linked to every major Christmas song. Not always interesting memories (I’m looking at you, ‘All I Want For Christmas’, playing obnoxiously loudly whilst I peruse my local Tesco’s crisp aisle), but some impression stamped into my being, nagging at me as I navigate the festive season.
Part of my frustration towards the popular Christmas discography is that, without ever independently choosing to play them, I still know every word thanks to the years of hearing them in the background at family parties, in shopping centres, in the soundtracks of television shows and festive films. I’ve found that this exasperation only builds once you reach an age where you realise that the songs you know, and have been singing and bopping along to blissfully in your youth, are inherently problematic and have influenced your world-view in a particularly icky way.
It’s for this reason that I have no choice but to identify Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ as the weirdest, most ignorant, most white-saviour-y, fear-based bullshit that I’ve heard and thus, my very LEAST favourite Christmas song. Does it bop? Yes. Do I feel a subconscious urge to blurt out the chorus whenever I hear it? Absolutely. And that just makes me all the more angry. Every time it comes on the radio, I am dragged straight back to the first time I watched the Gavin & Stacey Christmas Special – to the joy and excitement of Gavin and Smithy as they sang along together in the build-up to the ‘big day’, which I shared when I first watched it (and is the memory which sucks me in to wanting to sing along). And the fact that they thought it was a great idea to revive this song in 2014 to talk about Ebola?! That would really need an article of its own to unpick. In short: would not recommend.
On a lighter note, my favourite Christmas song brings back some of my most golden, sparkling winter memories. Whenever I listen to it, I remember being picked up from my uni house a few days before Christmas, packing up our car with way too many suitcases and bags, filled with gifts for my loved ones – our own Santa’s sleigh. I remember sitting shotgun alongside my Dad, who’s my best friend, blasting this song so loud that we couldn’t hear each other speak as I looked across to the other cars on the motorway; imagining their lives, where they’re coming from and who they’re going home to. Flashes of headlights glinting in my Dad’s eyes, smiles plastered across our faces. I have no memories of this song before those journeys; I don’t think it was even on my radar. You might have guessed already: the song is ‘Driving Home For Christmas’ by Chris Rea – and every time I listen now, I feel a deep, wonderful ache in my chest, pulling me home.
There’s always one, isn’t there? I’ll just say it now: I’m not really one for christmas songs. Along with children’s birthday parties, ice breaker activities and now, Zoom quizzes, Christmas songs feed straight into my deep seated fear of ‘forced fun’. So my criteria for picking a favourite are really quite simple: 1. Sound as least like a christmas song as possible, but 2. Still technically count as festive, (the question of your favourite christmas tune comes up in conversation more than you might think, and from experience, it’s best to have an answer so as not to channel full Grinch vibes). With these simple asks in mind, there are a few contenders. Destiny’s Child’s iconic ‘8 Days Of Christmas’ has got to be up there: the ‘sleighbells’ sound affect à la year 9 music lesson keyboards, the sex positive santa outfits in the music video, the deep and meaningful lyrics (“On the 6th day of Christmas my baby gave to me/ A crop jacket with dirty denim jeans”. Simply beautiful.) this capitalist’s festive wet dream really has it all. But my number one choice, purely for the absolute cheek of it all, is Earth Wind and Fire’s December… or, The Song Formerly Known As September. Yep, the AUDACITY of rereleasing their classic disco hit, and changing literally nothing apart from the date in the lyrics, throwing the music lesson keyboard bells on top and calling it a Christmas song wins top marks in my eyes. Minimal effort, minimal christmas cliche, all the cheesiness. Perfect.
On the absolute opposite end of the spectrum then, and for that reason the song with the privilege of being crowned my least favourite Christmas song (no mean feat) is Wizzard’s ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day’. The premise alone is enough of a reason to make my skin crawl. No, Roy, you don’t wish it was Christmas every day. Take a moment to really think about what you’re saying. Even a string of covers from certified Huns Leona Lewis and Girls Aloud weren’t enough to sway me. This song really is the audible equivalent of reheated brussel sprouts and that one house on your street that leaves their christmas decorations up well into February. A downright terrible idea, poorly executed. Bah humbug x
I’ve been told I have a bad habit of not listening to the lyrics of songs. Aside from the perfect creation that is Cardi B’s WAP which I have, of course, committed to memory, lyrics often slip my mind. Guilty as charged! And this often means I can be caught humming along to songs with less than desirable meanings. This Festive season has revealed yet another set of famously inappropriate lyrics that I failed to clock, singing along quite happily in ignorant bliss until my partner enlightened me. The song in question is the karaoke classic: Baby it’s Cold Outside. So I thought I’d spread some Christmas cheer this December and scratch this dodgy number from all our playlists.
Let’s just have a wee look:
The neighbours might think
Baby, it’s bad out there
Say what’s in this drink?
No cabs to be had out there
I wish I knew how
Your eyes are like starlight now
To break this spell
I’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell
I ought to say no no no
Mind if I move in closer?
At least I’m gonna say that I tried
What’s the sense in hurting my pride?
I really can’t stay
Baby, don’t hold out.
First up, I know the original song came out in 1949, so it’s no surprise that it’s out of touch with modern culture. In the 50s, a woman couldn’t sustain a casual sexual partner outside of marriage without attracting a huge backlash. Getting ‘caught’ by a neighbour could mean public humiliation. Open discussions around male dominance in romantic relationships and the signals for consent have grown significantly since the song’s release, so we have to consider the context when analysing these lyrics.
That said, bloody hell does this song contain some dodgy lines. “Say what’s in this drink?” – no thank you! Sounds like the time to let the bouncer know there’s a creep at the bar spiking women’s alcohol. “I ought to say no no no/ At least I’m gonna say that I tried.” Doesn’t really sound like you’re say yes yes yes either though… These lyrics aren’t helped by the fact that in the original score, written by Frank Loesser as a duet for him and his wife, Lynn, the male part is labelled ‘Wolf’ and the female part ‘Mouse’. Loving the predatory vibes guys, very festive.
If you fancy enjoying a modern version of Baby it’s Cold Outside, check out this beautiful rendition by Lydia Liza and Josiah Lemanski: https://open.spotify.com/track/3xvFTqHmlMqKjHgczCGn2C?si=HjWuhs7bTf6a8dpzfeJuNg
As for my favourite: Maria Carey is the true Christmas diva. All I want for Christmas is a particularly fabulous festive banger, a large roast dinner and a cat stuck up a decorative tree. The usual. All I Want for Christmas is You is the best Christmas song ever. I won’t be swayed. Every supermarket and radio station in the country seems to agree with me.
Move out of the way Santa; Maria’s ambiguous yet ultra specific ‘you’ has captured the hearts of a nation. When this masterpiece hits the airwaves, everyone grabs their special someone (or whoever happens to be closest at the time). Mariah gave us the ultimate Christmas gift. And what a woman she’s become. I hope you caught her stunning performance at the New Year’s Eve Time Square celebration back in 2016. Suffice to say, she didn’t fancy singing that day. Now that’s a true diva.