Lists: Bad Christmas Songs

On December 23rd, I set out on a solo drive 360 miles straight north to the shores of Lake Superior with the rest of the family following shortly behind in a second car.  I frequently take this drive and look forward to the entertainment of an audio book, but this time I was driving my husband’s car, which did not have a CD player.  “Don’t worry,” said Nick, “the Kia has Sirius radio with about 200 ad-free channels – you should be fine.”

Unfortunately, I approach all technologies, even something as simple as a satellite radio station, with Amish levels of hesitancy.  Sure enough, I was flummoxed by Sirius as soon as I got onto the highway.  How was I supposed to find a compatible channel as I was whizzing along?  I sensed that habitual Sirius users probably create their own personal menus, but how could I keep my eyes on the road and glance at the radio?  As my car wavered near the median strip, I realized that I should pick a channel and stick with it.

So for six straight hours I listened to channel 8, the Coffee House channel, which featured a non-stop extravaganza of Christmas songs.  The menu skirted any bona fide Christmas carols – Silent Night and its ilk – but instead treated me to a relentless diet of Christmas-themed ditties, sung by the likes of Bing Crosby and Dean Martin.

My car became a Karaoke bar.  I sang lustily along to Mommies Kissing Santa Claus, Roasting Chestnuts and rum-pum-pum Drummer Boys.  How strange that I know these lyrics, I thought, since I had no recollection of actively listening to any of them.  Perhaps they had unconsciously seeped into some dusty gray recess of the brain and now came bubbling to the surface in the spirit of Christmas.  I even knew the words to the Chipmunks “Christmas Don’t Be Late.” (Alvin wants a hula-hoop.)

At the three hour mark just north of Green Bay Wisconsin, the songs began to repeat and I paused to consider the words that I was mindlessly singing.  I began to see a disturbing pattern in the songs.      

1.   Treacle

By far the dominant category, this collection presents Christmas in an impossibly sweet and delusional light, including such entries as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” and “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas.”   In this dream world, there is no recognition of Christmas-triggered family dysfunction, when out of an abundance of caution, fractious families are advised to sub in butter knives for the steak knives.  Thanksgiving can be stressful enough, and then one short month later, families go at it again, this time with the added perils of gift-giving.

As a child, I was fortunate to enjoy only magical Christmases orchestrated by my mother.  As I tried to create the same experience for my children, I realized that staging Christmas as a Broadway show was a hell of a lot of work.  Sirius’ playlist failed to recognize the complicated Christmas infrastructure.  Behind the scenes someone must roast all those chestnuts and make vats of figgy pudding.

If I were to write a Christmas song, it would be an ode to my mother and all the parents who work so hard to make Christmas magical for their children.

(To the tune of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen)

Yes let’s all praise Jesus, but there’s others who deserve some say

Remember all those Moms who work hard on Christmas day

To save their children from disappointment and dismay,

Oh-oh, providing the comfort of toys, the comfort of toys

Oh-oh, providing the comfort of toys. 

2.  Bullying

I think I heard the anguished tale of Rudolph three times – once in Milwaukee, then in Green Bay and then again in Escanaba. Each repetition fueled a growing anger over the distressing message of Rudolph’s persecution by a group of toxic reindeer.  I bet that smug Prancer was the alpha bully.

Then my thoughts turned to the other classic bullying victim – Dumbo the Elephant, and his story is even more tortuous than Rudolph’s.  He is teased relentlessly for his over-sized ears and when his mother, Jumbo, comes to his defense, she is considered a threat and chained in her cage.  Dumbo is relegated to the ranks of a “clown” and suffers habitual humiliation as he is forced to dive into a vat of pie filling – over and over again.  When the movie was released in 1941, the plot line of flat-out abuse and bullying was ignored by the critics, who called Dumbo one of Disney’s most “genial and endearing” movies.

I was steaming with indignation as the third version of Rudolph came over the airwaves, but this time the song included a second verse, where Rudolph rips into his tormentors.  I momentarily lifted both hands from the steering wheel and cheered the unknown author who sought to redeem the message of this Christmas classic.

“Rudolph was not so stupid for flattery to change his mind

Love comes with no conditions – always sweet polite and kind,

Love surely does not envy, suffer long and never fails

You guys just say you love me ‘cause I saved your reindeer tails.


Differences in how we look – color, shape and size.

Give no right to criticize, why don’t you all apologize.

Then how their friendship blossomed, they shouted out with glee

Rudolph and his buddies lived together happily!”

3.  Consumerism 

Consumerism is of course what gives Christmas its ugly, but “Santa Baby” has got to be the worst as it combines flat-out greed with sluttiness.  The version I heard was sung by a breathy-voiced singer.  I imagined Marilyn Monroe in a skin-tight sequined dress singing to President Kennedy.

“Santa Baby, just slip a sable under the tree for me

Been an awful good girl, Santa Baby

So hurry down the chimney tonight.


Santa Baby, I want a yacht

And really that’s not a lot

Been an angel all year, Santa Baby

So hurry down the chimney tonight.”

There are other verses where the cooing vixen ups her demands including a deed to a platinum mine, and a ring (“and I don’t mean the phone.”)  Now if you subscribe to the theory that anything longer than it is wide is a potential phallic symbol, the repetition of “hurry down the chimney” is hard to ignore.

4.  Sexism

A few Christmas songs were implicitly sexist, such as “Let it Snow,” where the man hopes that a blizzard will force him to stay overnight with his girlfriend, but “Baby It’s Cold Outside” raises sexism to the heights of date rape.  The scene is a woman who wants to go home, but her lascivious date counters her every request to leave.  The song is sung as a call and response duet with the man’s lyrics in parentheses.

My mother will start to worry (Hey beautiful what’s your hurry)

And father will be pacing the floor (Listen to that fireplace roar)

So really, I’d better scurry (Beautiful please don’t hurry)

Well, maybe just a half a drink more (Put some music on while I pour)

The woman continues to protest, noting that the neighbors might begin to talk, her sister will be suspicious and there will be blowback from ensuing gossip, but the man keeps pressing and pressing.

The neighbors might think (Baby it 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 was now totally invested in this woman’s plight.  Good lord, I thought, the poor thing has ben rooffied!!!  Will she make it home with her virtue intact?  She is seriously struggling as the man moves in for the kill.

I gotta say no, no no sir (You mind if I move in closer?)

At least I’m gonna say that I tried (And what’s the sense in hurting my pride

I really can’t stay (Oh baby don’t hold out)

Oh but it’s cold outside.

The song left me hanging as they sang the last line together.   Emboldened by the sensitive soul who offered a better resolution for Rudolph, I offer the following empowering verses to Baby It’s Cold Outside.

Get your hands off my breast (It’s time to get undressed)

Listen my no is not a tease (Now just open your knees)

Don’t do something you might regret (You’re just playing hard to get)

 I’m calling 9-1-1- (Baby don’t spoil my fun)


I’ve been trained in self-defense (Now you’re not making any sense)

And I’ve got something in my purse (Okay, now don’t make things worse)

It’s a little thing called mace (Did you have to spray it in my face)

Will this lesson be a lasting success (Never again will I mistake a no for yes)

My job is done, I’m going into the cold outside.

5.  Anger

Somewhere just south of Marquette, Michigan I was treated to an angry rebuttal to all the sweetness and silliness.  The artist was someone named Jacqui Naylor who sang “Father Christmas.”

The last time I played Father Christmas

I stood outside the department store

A gang of kids came over and mocked me

And knocked my Santa to the floor. 


Father Christmas give us some money.

We got no time for your silly toys.

We’ll beat you up if you don’t hand it over

We want your bread so don’t make us annoyed

Give all the toys to the little rich boys.       

While I admit that Christmas has lost a bit of its luster for me, this brutal song threatened to suck the life out of the good cheer I had manufactured as I karaoke’d my way north.  Time to take a break from the Coffee House’s Christmas cavalcade.  I drove the last 45 minutes in silence.  I pulled up to our house just as a light snow softened the driveway.  I hurried inside to ready the house for Christmas before the rest of the family arrived.  Time to dial up some Joy to the World and O Come All Ye Faithful.


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