So what’s with that horrible Christmas Shoes song? Who on earth wants to decorate gingerbread cookies while listening to a ditty about a dirty little boy at Walmart, trying to buy some pleather shoes for his mother, who’s about to buy the farm on Christmas Eve?
Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my Mama, please
It’s Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry, sir, Daddy says there’s not much time
You see she’s been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes would make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight
I’ll admit that the first few times I heard these lyrics, I cried. My Jewish mother died on a holiday when I was 10. I feel for the kid.
But after a decade of this downer ― recently added to a mental playlist I call “Music to Slit Your Wrists By” ― I’m over it. Every year, without fail, I’m sitting in my Honda Civic, bobbing along to “Just hear those sleigh bells jingle-ing, ring ting tingle-ing too,” when all of a sudden I’m accosted by this cancerous song about a mom who might croak before Santa ever bites into his first Pillsbury Ready To Bake™ reindeer.
I know I’m supposed to get all choked up when the kindly fellow next in line plunks down some cash so this kid can afford the shoes. And I’m supposed to think, “What a nice guy to step in and help out this poor, pathetic soon-to-be-motherless kid.” Afterall, doing unto others IS a big part of being a good Christian.
But what I really want is to scream: “Little boy: Go home! Your mother’s dying, for crying out loud! She doesn’t care about footwear.”
I may be Jewish, but I’ve seen enough Lifetime movies to know that Christmas is about family … spending time together, cherishing each other the way Mary and Joseph cherished their newborn son. It’s not about material things. And I’m pretty sure God doesn’t care if you show up to the pearly gates in Manolo Blahniks or Hush Puppies. If I’m ever dying, I hope to spend my last moments on earth surrounded by the people I love. I sure as heck hope they’re not standing in line at Payless.
The Christmas Shoes by NewSong isn’t the only holiday song that undermines the spirit of my season. There are others out there, too, determined to wreak havoc on my happy:
Please Daddy Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas
From John Denver’s 1975 album Rocky Mountain Christmas comes this gem, nestled between Silver Bells and Christmas for Cowboys. The chorus is:
And in between these inspiring lyrics are happy-go-lucky verses like:
Just last year when I was only seven
Now I’m almost eight, as you can see
You came home a quarter past eleven
And fell down underneath our Christmas tree
Yes, nothing says happy holidays like an overly pickled parent stumbling under the mistletoe and cracking his head on a Hallmark keepsake snow angel.
Don’t be fooled by the beautiful Jingle Bells piano intro and the opening verse:
It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on
River isn’t about Christmas any more than Lethal Weapon or Rocky IV. Just because it’s set during the month of December doesn’t mean it evokes any holiday sentiment. But radio stations keep playing it (they’re especially partial to the Linda Ronstadt and Barry Manilow versions).
Listen up Light FM: The River is about a self-absorbed lady who drove her lover away, and now wishes she had a river to skate away on ― not because she’s shooting for an old-fashioned Hans Brinker holiday, but so she can escape all the merry people who are “cutting down trees,” “putting up reindeer” and enjoying the season. There’s nothing festive about making your man cry and realizing you’re a selfish, sad woman who drove away the best person you ever knew.
Originally sung by Joni Mitchell, River was never intended to be a holiday song. It was on her Blue album, the title of which says it all.
Merry Christmas With Love
This stinker is brought to you by American Idol Season 2 runner up Clay Aiken. It’s about a lonely old lady who no one comes to visit on Christmas.
She leaned with her head on the window
Watching evergreen bend in the snow
Remembering Christmas the way it had been
So many seasons ago.
When children would reach for their stockings
And open the presents they found
The lights on the tree would shine bright in their eyes
Reflecting the love all around
This year there’s no one to open the gifts
No reason for trimming the tree
And just as a tear made it’s way to the floor
She hears voices outside start to sing
This sad old lady once had a family that now is either dead or just so self-absorbed that they can’t bother inviting her over to share their eggnog. Carolers show up at her door and, for a flicker in time, the old broad finds herself singing along, sucked into the spirit of the season.
But carolers move on. So after a few rounds of Jingle Bells, it’s safe to assume granny’s alone again in her empty house with nothing but a TV yule log and a Hot Pocket. Merry Christmas.
Nothing captures the holiday spirit like a song about a 4-year-old girl named Carol who doesn’t know who her daddy is and whose mommy has “gone away,” probably turning tricks to score more crystal meth. This tearjerker is brought to you by country singer Skip Ewing from his Following Yonder Star album, and rears its ugly head when you least expect it, right after Little Drummer Boy. It opens with a guy who’s playing Santa downtown on Christmas Eve, when a little girl climbs on his knee.
I could tell she had a Christmas Wish behind those eyes of blue
So I asked her what’s your name, and what can Santa git for you
She said my name is Christmas Carol, I was born on Christmas Day
I don’t know who my daddy is, and mommy’s gone away.
All I want for Christmas is someone to take me home.
Does anybody want a Christmas Carol of their own?
On an up note, Santa is so touched by Christmas Carol that he makes arrangements at the County Children’s Home to adopt her himself. Depressing as this composition is, at least it ends on a happy note:
Merry Christmas Carol
I love you
… which is more than I can say about this last song on my depressing countdown, which doesn’t end quite so happily.
Faith in Santa/A Season to Be Merry
Don’t let the title fool you. There’s nothing merry about this plutonian ballad. German country singer Hermann Lammers Meyer took “lyin’, cheatin’, cryin’, dyin’ songs” to a new low in 1995 with this little ditty about a bony and homeless 7-year-old boy named Billy who has no coat or shoes and shows up to sit on Santa’s lap, shaking and weak from the cold. His daddy’s in prison for shooting his mama’s boyfriend. Mom works in a bar and lives with a beer-drinking child-hater who doesn’t want the kid around. Poor Billy sleeps in cars and asks Santa if he can hitch a ride to Jesus’ house, where he wouldn’t be “hungry no more.”
And does the author of this tearjerker send the kid home with a loving forever family who will keep him safe and warm, just like Christmas Carol? No! The kid dies on Santa’s lap. He dies!
I’m so tired and sleepy now, Santa, said the child as he looked towards the sky
With a sigh he relaxed against Santa’s chest and peacefully closed his eyes
Santa quickly felt for the little boy’s pulse. Someone please get a doctor, he said.
But when the ambulance took little Billy away, everyone knew he was dead
Shoes, drunks, lonely shut ins, orphans and death ― if that doesn’t get you in the holiday spirit, I don’t know what will. Call me crazy, but I don’t think a Christmas song should have you reaching for your Prozac or, worse, a dagger.
So this year, I’ve forgone the all-day holiday stations and made my own festive playlist of my faves, from Whitney’s Do You Hear What I Hear and Mariah’s All I Want For Christmas is You to classics like Bing Crosby’s I’ll Be Home for Christmas and Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song.
I prefer to dream of a holly jolly white Christmas where chestnuts are roasting on an open fire under skies that are brightly shining. I can’t have myself a merry little anything while listening to kick-me-in-the-gut lyrics about first-graders dying on Santa.
It’s okay to tell a story, but it needs to end on high note. Silent Night, for instance, ends with everyone sleeping in heavenly peace.
… but for God’s sake, man, not forever!