It’s that time of year again, where the background music of retail establishments goes from being merely bland and soulless to actively noticeable and soulless. Audiophonic muck seeps out of the PA systems of various kinds of public spaces, and offensive, grating “music” sears the ears of perfectly innocent citizens who only want to ambulate from one section of a shopping establishment to another. It’s the most musically awful time of year. It’s Christmas, and that means foul, foul song-like noise is getting blasted at you, me, and everybody until the 25th.
Jingle Bells, The Twelve Days of Christmas, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer are all terrible abominations that mock the laws of God, Nature, and Man. They are without value or merit. They offend the ears and make the listener long for silence. These oft-played Christmas songs suck, and they do so with vigor and persistence.
I hate them. You are advised to do likewise.
Believe it or not, though, there are a few Christmas songs that are not the aural equivalent of having your hand frozen with liquid nitrogen and then smashed with an impact hammer. Some seasonal tunes are actually nonterrible. Some you can even tolerate. Some are even actually good. Here are ten of them.
If either of these songs got the kind of exposure the Frosty the Snowman got, they’d probably be insufferable, too, but they’re not, so they’re charming. My favorite part of these songs is that it’s just the Snow Miser and Heat Miser saying hi. They’re receiving Mrs. Clause and her pals in their climate-themed throne rooms, and immediately bust out the song and dance. The dialogue directly after the songs makes it clear that both of them know Mrs. Clause decently well, so we can only assume that this is how these guys say hello every single time they meet someone. I kind of dig that.
You get the idea that Greg Lake doesn’t really believe in Father Christmas, or the ideas of Christmas, or God. He’s perplexed at the idea of having a season of peace when there’s so much terrible conflict around, and is obviously perturbed that folks can say “Merry Christmas” while still supporting war and belligerence. However, he seems to want to believe in Christmas and he finds it achingly painful that he can’t actually partake in that feeling that he remembers from childhood. As an atheist who still kind of likes this holiday, I find that touching and very easy to relate to.
This song is about food, and more specifically about eating a pig’s face, and how great it is to eat pork face. Okay, the song hearkens back to primal pre-Christian sacrifices and ceremonial feasts (and that’s neat) but food is easily one of the best things about Christmas or pretty much any holiday. The Boar’s Head Carol is about how awesome treats are, and how excited people are to stuff a bunch of herb-bedecked pork into their face holes. That’s festive, and something that pretty much everyone can relate to.
7: O Holy Night
O Holy Night really does feel, well, holy. It’s the kind of thing that could ring through a clear, cold night inviting contemplation and peace. It’s a welcome antidote to the bombast and obnoxiousness that typifies, say, The Twelve Days of Christmas or its ilk.
The Holly and the Ivy is of a piece with The Boar’s Head Carol in that it evokes a kind of old and even ancient European yule tradition. Unlike a lot of other Christmas music, The Holly and the Ivy seems to have a sense of restraint to go along with its grandness. Most choral versions of it alternate between solo voices and the full rush of a choir. This restraint and return to individual voices during the verse makes the song conversational and communal, something lacking in lots of other songs.
The song loses points for Wenceslas only helping a particular peasant at a singular point of need, rather than implementing systemic reforms that would help a broader class of people, but the idea of a king and a common person sharing a table together is still a nice image.
The Carol of the Bells, as good as it is, doesn’t seem to be much about or evocative of bells. A better image is one of a progressively building snow flurry, light dusting eventually building into an aural blizzard. It sounds like winter feels, cold and harsh and raging around you.
Also known as Oh Come All Ye Faithful, but really this song needs to be in Latin. Quid latine dictum sit altum viditur, after all. Latin is the language of soaring Gothic arches and stained-glass panoramas. It’s a language that evokes vistas of Heaven, Hell, and transcendent divinity. Sure you can sing it in English, but if you do it no longer sounds like the Celestial Vault is suddenly filled with Angelic Hosts who are proclaiming the presence of God on Earth. As someone raised Catholic, Adeste Fidelis is one of the songs most evocative of badass, thundering God glory, and its majesty stands in welcome contrast to how inane most other, lesser Christmas songs tend to be.
I was only recently introduced to this song, but it pretty much ticks all the boxes of the problems I have with Christmas, and but why I like it anyway. Tim Minchin’s ode to family togetherness is, more than any other song on this list, all about the True Meaning of Christmas. I almost put this in the number one spot, but the song doesn’t feel archetypically Christmassy enough for top honors. Call it Northern Hemisphere bias, because it is. No, the best Christmas song, the one that’s all about snow and cold and the one that sounds like the season feels is…
Pretty much every person who has conflicted thoughts about Christmas is required to like this song, and I’m no exception. It’s all wind and snow and ringing bells, with a few bad words thrown in for good measure.
This one’s particularly endearing to me, though, because during my first Christmas in Japan, I was at karaoke with a number of my students and coworkers. An enthusiastic student asked me to sing a Christmas song, so I and a female coworker (also a Westerner) cracked this one out. There was much bewilderment and confusion at the two of us joyously calling each other vulgar names. We sang, we swayed back and forth, and then we probably drank a bunch of horrible beer because that’s what you do in a Japanese karaoke bar. This one will always remind of having Christmas in a weird foreign place, which I suppose is what the song is about to begin with.