And a Few Other Christmas Song Awards
In the words below I will make some readers very angry. Yet there will be other who will read the very same words and giggle in agreement. That’s just the way discussions about the best of the worst Christmas songs go.
I don’t feel any need to prolong the intro for sharing my correct opinions with you. Let’s get started, shall we?
In fact, let’s just start with the overall winner…
The “This Song Must Be Played at Least Twice an Hour” Award
All I Want For Christmas Is You — This Mariah Carey song was a welcomed addition to the Christmas Season the year it came out. It’s upbeat, catchy and festive. But I mean c’mon. Do we really need it crammed down our throats every time the radio turns on after mid-November?
The “Songs that are Repetitive and Also Say the Same Thing Over and Over and Also Repeat Themselves Over and Over” Award
Good gawd…these songs right here are what prompted me to write this little rant. These are just a couple, but they’re by far the worst.
Feliz Navidad — We get it, you want to wish us a Merry Christmas. Thank you. Now go away and take your song with you. It’s going to be in my head for the next two days anyways so you don’t need to sing it anymore.
Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time — I’m happy for you. Really, I am. And I was happy too until you came to me with this horribly dull and not pleasant to listen to song that never seems to end.
I don’t know why this song ever saw the light of day.
Oh, yes I do … because Paul McCartney.
This proves the Beatles can write anything they want and it’ll become popular and keep playing until we populate Mars.
The “Theologically Tone-Deaf” Award
Mary Did You Know — This popular modern Christmas song most recently wonderfully performed (seriously, it’s awesome) by Pentatonix strums all the heart strings as the lyrics basically ask Mary, the mother of sweet little baby Jesus if she had any idea how awesome her kiddo was going to be.
The lyrics were written in 1984 by Mark Lowry, put to music by Buddy Green in 1991, the same year Christian Contemporary artist Michael English recorded it. The song is pleasing to the ear and is a worshipful and creative way of saying, “Mary, your kid was the best. Did you know he was gonna save the world?”
Here’s the thing, we get our stories about Jesus from the Bible. When I was a kid we’d all gather around as a family — we’ll say it was around the fireplace because that sounds nice — as dad would read the Christmas story out of the book of Luke. I can still hear him start, “…In those days Ceasear Agustus issued a decree…” and continue on through the birth of Jesus.
I think Mark Lowry probably had a similar experience growing up. I even think whoever was reading the scripture started at the same place my dad did — Luke 2 — because most of Luke 1 (beginning at verse 39) tells the story of how 1) Mary’s aunt told her how awesome it was that God had chosen Mary to mother the child who would save the world, and 2) Mary went on to praise God for choosing her to mother the child who would save the world.
So the answer to the question, “Mary did you know…,” is Yes.
She said so in the Bible.
And in this response to the song. (If you’re familiar with the song and have a feminist bone in your body, you’re going to want to click that link.)
We Three Kings — I’m getting picky here, but nowhere in the Christmas story does it say anything about three kings. The story mentions three gifts — gold, frankincense, and myrrh — but nothing about the number of kings or wise men being three. It’s an easy mistake to make, but a mistake nonetheless.
Away in a Manger — This was my favorite growing up. It made me think of a cute little bundle of joy snoozing on the hay. I think it’s probably similar to the way Ricky Bobby liked to think of Jesus.
I learned this song with a tune I’ve come to learn is the American version, and was shocked and appalled the first time I heard the European version. I’ve since learned my European friends felt similarly about the American tune.
Anyways, there’s a lyric about sweet baby Jesus never crying.
According to the foundations of Christian tradition, Jesus was completely human. Literally everybody believes this. The belief that Jesus was also divine is where the controversy comes into play. Not about his humanity. (For fun some time, google “Was Jesus God”…)
Babies cry, and Jesus did too. The difficult parts of being human are what made Jesus’s humanity important. We shouldn’t pretend Jesus didn’t cry.
The “Not Really a Christmas Song” Award
Let It Snow — Most of my Christmases for the first 4 decades of my life took place in the Boston area. If I could remember the years where we had a white Christmas — which I can’t — I would be able to count them on one hand.
This is a song about snow, not Christmas.
Towards the end of the song the lyrics talk about finally kissing goodnight as the loved one walks out into the snow. I think perhaps the author had second thoughts about being alone and perhaps penned a sequel, the next song on this list, also not about Christmas.
Baby it’s Cold Outside — In recent years this song has taken a hit for being a bit rape-y. To a certain degree, I suppose that could be almost fair.
Any honest couple will concede there are times when one is a bit more randy than the other and might engage in playful banter or bargaining at the first rejection. We’ll say stuff like, “Pleeease? Pretty please with washed dishes on top? I’ll fold some laundry too…” Sometimes the answer is still, “no.”
There’s also the possibility that the male singing the song simply liked her company and wanted her to stay a while longer. Not every interaction between a man and a woman has to be about sex. The lizard brain doesn’t have to rule. Too often it does, but not always.
John Legend and Kelly Clarkson perform a version of the song which provides a more politically correct alternative. It’s cute, appropriate, and should make us all chuckle a bit.
Frosty the Snowman — Again, not a song about Christmas. Christmas isn’t mentioned once. The closest we come to discussing Christmas is the use of the words “magic” (perhaps Christmas magic?) and, “top hat” (a favorite prop of Christmas Carolers). Further, as I mentioned before, it doesn’t even always snow in time for Christmas which makes snowmen an impossibility, particularly in Australia. Not only that, but the song discusses the warmer months of spring bringing about the demise of ole’ Frosty.
But alas, Frosty the Snowman will ever be hanging from the branches of our pagan Christmas trees in the form of ornaments.
The “Song that Makes American Kids Laugh” Award
What Child is This — Every sheltered evangelical kid in America laughed at the verse that used the word ass.
Don’t lie. You laughed.
You probably still do.
The lyric here is, “Where ox and ass are feeding.”
This isn’t a hated song, but it makes the list for the … well because it’s my list and I wanted to use the word “ass.”
Back to the hate…
The “Wrongly Hated” Award
The Little Drummer Boy — If Away in a Manger was my favorite Christmas song growing up The Little Drummer Boy was a close second. First, I was a little boy myself and I liked drums and animals. This song is about a little boy playing his drum — pa rum pa pum pum — and talking about cute little animals and Christmas-y stuff. Christmas was also my favorite holiday, so it isn’t hard to see why I liked this song.
But there are scores of people in my life who drop this song right into the hated category for various reasons.
“There’s nothing biblical about it.” This is the argument I hear most often. There are references to a little king and worship in the song, so it looks like it’s an attempt at a biblical reference, but there’s not even enough there to make my list of theologically tone-deaf songs. Besides, we’d have to hate on more than just this song if “biblical” was the necessary qualifier.
For King and Country — a Christian Contemporary group that accentuates percussion instruments in their songs — released their version of Little Drummer Boy which quickly became a hit. It’s my favorite rendition of the song.
Interestingly, in the opening of the video linked here, lead singer Joel Smallbone sets aside his Bible before following a little drummer boy through the hills, across a beach with a burning ship in the distance (an obvious reference to their album), across an ….American Civil War battle scene?…, and finally to the middle east where the boy leaves his drum at the base of the manger as a gift. It’s as if the biblical story is an inspiration for the song, but theology isn’t the point.
Need a Drummer Boy to work out to? Try Justin Beiber’s version featuring Busta Rhymes. It’ll make the traditionalist want to bang their head…into a wall or perhaps on a table.
But don’t be surprised if your head starts to bob a bit.
Then there’s the car-wreck version. This is the duet of Bing Crosby and David Bowie. It earns the car-wreck award because you just can’t look away. If you watch the video, you might ask yourself if it’s some sort of a joke. Did this really happen?
In fact, the comical nature of it is so great that Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly spoofed it. The genius of their spoof is that they had to do so little to make it hilarious. The original was funny by itself. Ferrell and Reilly just helped it along.
Speaking of Ferrell…
The “Christmas Song Most Ruined by Will Ferrell” Award
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year — Much to my dismay, I was no longer able to find a link to the video of the classic Saturday Night Live bit where Will Ferrell stands on a rotating platform and sings “A Wonderful Christmas Time.” In the bit Ferrell is the lead soloist in a small Christmas choir. As the platform turns, Ferrell’s character begins to get dizzy to the point of motion sickness, eventually vomiting all over himself, the choir and floor while the platform continues to turn.
The song itself isn’t too bad. But I’ll never again be able to hear it without thinking of the Ferrell bit. It was hilarious, gross, and unforgettable.
The “Seriously?” Award
Dominick the Donkey — Seriously? Apparently there’s a Italian Christmas Donkey named Dominick. It’s fun to listen to once or twice.
Then it grates on you.
I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas — Again, seriously? This old 1950’s favorite won’t die. The hippo that the singer finally got lived a long time too. (According to that bastion of never-wrong-facts, Wikipedia.) The popular notion that the song was written to raise awareness for a fund-raiser for a zoo isn’t true. It’s a legend that grew in the way legends do — a morsel of truth grows into something completely different.
Anyways, it’s an eye roller. Please stop playing it.
The “Rudest Christmas Song” Award
We Wish You a Merry Christmas — The song starts out nice enough. But then morphs into a demand for figgy pudding. What in the world is figgy pudding anyways?
But does that mean the Brits really get to demand some simply because they first wished somebody a Merry Christmas? Are we also forced to sing the wrong version of Away in a Manger?
Time for this song to make its Brexit.
The “Only Sing it if You Can” Award
O, Holy Night — I’m breaking my own rule here. This song’s inclusion isn’t so much about it being a bad song. It’s not. To be honest I like it quite a bit.
What I don’t like is when the wrong people try to sing it. It’s hard to do well.
If you’re thinking about singing this as a solo, here’s an exercise you should do first.
Go view the David Phelps performance of the song. It’s flawless and amazing.
As of this moment, 6,657,696 have viewed that performance. I think that’s enough to make it pretty likely that someone in the audience where you’ll be singing it has seen the David Phelps rendition, and they’ll be comparing you to him. I’m just saying…
Be sure. Be very sure you can do it.
The “Strong Start, Tedious Finish” Award
Happy Christmas (War is Over) — If I’m going to chastise Paul McCartney, I ought to be fair and call out John Lennon too. This song starts out so well. We all want to have a happy Christmas, and it’s easier to be happy when there’s no war. But as this one goes on, the children’s voices begin to strain, and we just wonder when it’s going to end. Similar to his other hit, Let it Be, I just look forward to the end.
With that said, I’ll end the list here. For sure I missed some, and might have ruffled some feathers. I know one thing though…
…I feel better with this off my chest.