10 Holiday Songs That Deserve A Closer Look
"Twelve Days of Christmas" is frequently derided as the "99 Bottles of Beer" of the holiday season and Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" has been known to start revolutions – but no song divides people quite like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside."
This non-Christmas song that tends to get played a lot at Christmas because, well, it’s cold outside, hasn’t aged well since Frank Loesser wrote it in 1944. With lines like "Say, what's in this drink?," some people believe it's just a little too date-rapey. (John Legend and comedian Natasha Rothwell are evidently two of these people because they reimagined the lyrics for a version Legend recorded with Kelly Clarkson.)
If for no other reason than to outrage the Facebook trolls, let’s have a few too many cups of egg nog and needlessly analyze the lyrics of other seasonal songs.
With frozen tongue in cheek, here are 10 classics that could easily be cancelled:
RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSE REINDEER
Not the least of the problems with this 1949 song is how it immediately insults the listener. “Do you recall the most famous reindeer of all?” Uhm, yeah, his name’s Rudolph. You literally wrote this song about him, Johnny Marks.
Then, we’re led to believe that the only reindeer with an actual man’s name is the one getting shamed. Really? Prancer’s not getting teased? And, poor Rudolph is being called names and excluded from reindeer games solely because his nose glows? We’re supposed to believe Blitzen’s never been lit?
At the end of the song about body-shaming and workplace harassment, Santa promotes Rudolph to the position of lead reindeer based only on a physical trait – and, instead of filing a complaint with HR or seething with resentment and jealousy, these bullies suddenly love Rudolph and shout out with glee? We’re not buying it.
Despite not making any mention of Christmas, this 1934 ditty by Felix Bernard and Richard B. Smith has become a holiday classic – even though it promotes the use of hallucinogens and is generally mean-spirited.
"In the meadow we can build a snowman / Then pretend that he is Parson Brown.” No one would do that unless there were ‘shrooms involved.
“He’ll say, ‘Are you married?’ / We’ll say, ‘No man’ / But you can do the job when you're in town.”
While it’s true that it’s none of Mr. Brown’s business if we’re married, telling him to make his way, without legs, from the meadow to the town for a job is kind of a d**k move.
“We'll have lots of fun with mister snowman / Until the other kids knock him down.” Wow. Just, wow.
DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR?
The words to this Christmas song, written in 1962 by the aptly-named Noël Regney, unabashedly alienate everyone who is deaf, hard-of-hearing, or visually impaired.
“Do you see what I see? … Do you hear what I hear?,” the song taunts, repeatedly.
It also takes a pretty nasty position on protecting children from hypothermia. “A child, a child / shivers in the cold / Let us bring him silver and gold.” How about a blanket, instead?
THE CHRISTMAS SONG
Evidently, when Bob Wells and Mel Tormé came up with this song in the mid-‘40s, cultural appropriation was a thing. Now, we know it’s not acceptable for folks (outside of Edmonton) to “dress up like Eskimos” – or even call them Eskimos.
The song is also terribly ageist. "I'm offering this simple phrase / To kids from one to ninety-two," it goes. So, no one over 92 deserves to be wished a Merry Christmas?! Take that, everyone born before 1927.
I SAW MOMMY KISSING SANTA CLAUS
The kid in this song (written by Tommie Connor in 1952) is going to spend most of the new year in therapy after seeing his mom kissing Santa Claus and tickling him “underneath his beard so snowy white.”
He clearly hasn't clued in that it's his mom's husband – and presumably his dad – who's dressed up as Santa. No, we're all cool with the kid thinking his mom's cheating?
“Oh, what a laugh it would have been / If Daddy had only seen / Mommy kissing Santa Claus last night.” Really? What kind of a ghoul thinks it would be funny for his father to catch Mom cheating?
SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN
John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie came up with this song in 1934 PR (Pre-Ritalin) to keep kids on their best behaviour while they’re jacked up on candy canes and sugar cookies.
The only song ever to include the line “rooty toot toots and rummy tum tums” (although we’d have to check Cardi B’s lyrics to be sure), “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is actually quite creepy.
“He sees you when you’re sleeping,” it warns. "He knows if you’ve been bad or good.”
Kids aren’t even allowed to cry or pout because the jolly elf is “gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.”
This holiday classic literally puts the fear of a fictional bearded guy in people who are hoping for good things. Wait a second...
WE WISH YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS
“Good tidings we bring / to you and your kin.” A nice sentiment… unless you’re kin-less.
But, then you have the nerve to threaten us for some figgy pudding (whatever that is) and a cup of good cheer?
“We won’t go until we get some! We won’t go until we get some! We won’t go until we get some! So bring some out here!” This has become a home invasion. Call 911.
IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS
It’s hard to believe that a guy named Meredith (Wilson) wrote such a sexist song.
Maybe, in 1951, little boys like Barney and Ben really did only wish for “a pair of hop-a-long boots and a pistol that shoots,” while girls like Janice and Jen hoped for “dolls that talk and will go for a walk.”
Surely there’s nothing wrong with Ben hoping for a doll? And hop-a-long boots (aka cowboy boots) would look just as good on Janice.
Let’s not even get into this song’s suggestion that a loaded weapon makes a great gift for a child.
IT’S THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR
With all we know about mental health and the significant rise in depression during the holidays, are we really still singing a song about how everyone is “telling you be of good cheer?”
In 1963, Edward Pola and George Wyle figured there was nothing wrong with celebrating “the hap-happiest season of all.” But, we know now that it’s not for many people.
Speaking of things that feel Victorian, when was the last time someone told “scary ghost stories” during the holidays?
This holiday ode to materialism was penned in 1953 by Joan Javits and Philip Spinger.
Fully aware of how many families have nothing at Christmas, this woman asks her sugar daddy Santa for a sable, a ’54 convertible, a yacht, a platinum mine, a duplex, cheques, decorations from Tiffany, and a ring.
This woman feels like she’s entitled to an estimated $1.5 billion worth of gifts (and that’s assuming the duplex is in Winnipeg) just because she’s been “an angel all year.” And to top it off, she wants Santa to think of all the fun she missed and all the fellas she hasn’t kissed. Baby, that’s cold.
DO THEY KNOW IT’S CHRISTMAS?
This song has been a holiday staple since a bunch of European pop and rock stars got together in 1984 to record the lyrics of Bob Geldof and Midge Ure. Their hearts were in the right place because the single raised millions for famine relief in Ethiopia.
That said, the song has been labelled racist, ignorant, and patronizing.
Let’s begin with the titular question: “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” The answer is, yes. Yes, they know it’s Christmas because at least 40 per cent of Africans identity as Christian.
The song also conflates the continent of Africa with one of its 54 countries, Ethiopia. “It's a world of dread and fear / Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears,” they sing, seemingly lumping in major cities like Johannesburg, Cape Town and Cairo.
“There won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime.” Well, except for the snow in the mountains of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and, yes, Ethiopia.
“Where nothing ever grows / No rain nor rivers flow.” Well, Ethiopia is Africa’s fifth-most rainy nation, with an average annual rainfall of 1,158 mm. And there are dozens of rivers throughout the continent, including nine in Ethiopia alone.
In 2014, Geldof responded to such criticism of the song. “It’s a pop song, it’s not a doctoral thesis.”
This is an updated version of an article originally published in 2018.