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Some traditional Jewish holiday music
December 13, 2008 3:02 PM   Subscribe

Almost no traditional Christmas carols were written by Jews (though there have been rumors). But sometimes it seems like almost all the best 20th century Christmas songs were. Many people are dimly aware of this, but few know its full extent. I have compiled a list, with representative performances.

Wikipedia's (ASCAP) list of the top 25 most-performed holiday songs is loaded with Jewish Christmas songs. The list of Jewish-written songs in the top 25 follows (I may be missing some); links to YT performances:

1. The Christmas Song ("Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire") - Mel Torme, Robert Wells
5. White Christmas - Irving Berlin
6. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! - Sammy Cahn, Jule Styne
7. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer - Johnny Marks (also responsible for many second-tier Christmas songs)
9. I'll Be Home For Christmas - Walter Kent, Kim Gannon, Buck Ram (at least two are Jewish)
11. Sleigh Ride - Leroy Anderson, Mitchell Parish (one Jew)
13. Silver Bells - Jay Livingston, Ray Evans
14. Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree - Johnny Marks
18. A Holly Jolly Christmas - Johnny Marks
22. (There's No Place Like) Home for the Holidays - Bob Allen, Al Stillman (at least one Jew)
24. Santa Baby - Joan Ellen Javits, Philip Springer, Tony Springer (at least one Jew)

And here is a similar list (with slightly different rules for inclusion) that I had the misfortune of discovering after I did all the research for my own. It has brief discussions of the Jewishness of the various writers.
posted by grobstein (67 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
One thing I haven't been able to find on the web: a good discussion of why there are so many Jewish Christmas songs. The best I've been able to find is a bunch of people quoted saying Christmas songs are very lucrative.
posted by grobstein at 3:03 PM on December 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oh Jews, is there anything you can't do?
posted by norabarnacl3 at 3:07 PM on December 13, 2008 [6 favorites]


It's a conspiracy of Jews to conspire against Jews!
posted by billysumday at 3:17 PM on December 13, 2008


That is fascinating. I certainly wouldn't have expected to see Jews write so many overtly religious songs about a Christian holiday. I mean, if I were a Jew asked to write songs about Christmas, I would probably completely mock and ridicule the religious holiday by writing about deer with lights for noses, magical singing and dancing snowmen, and sluts who seduce Santa. But maybe that's just me.
posted by flarbuse at 3:17 PM on December 13, 2008 [10 favorites]


grobstein, thanks to you I know for the first time what nonplussed really feels like. I don't know whether I hope you have some point in mind or whether I hope you haven't.
posted by Phanx at 3:22 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


I certainly wouldn't have expected to see Jews write so many overtly religious songs about a Christian holiday.

Besides using the word "Christmas" every now and then, none of the carols mentioned above are particularly religious. They're mostly just wintry.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:36 PM on December 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


Phanx++

Fixed that for you
posted by grobstein at 3:40 PM on December 13, 2008


One thing I haven't been able to find on the web: a good discussion of why there are so many Jewish Christmas songs. The best I've been able to find is a bunch of people quoted saying Christmas songs are very lucrative.

Honestly, that's most of the reason. A popular Christmas song will be played every holiday season, guaranteeing the writer a nice royalty check year on year from record sales, sheet music sales, radio plays, and all those versions recorded by other artists.

And all this was before the days of all Christmas music radio.

A lot of the Tin Pan Alley songwriters were Jewish, so it was only natural some of them would turn towards writing Christmas songs. And the ones that did have made a killing.

One other thing -- none of those 11 songs listed above could, in any way, be considered religious. They may mention "Christmas," but there's no Jesus, no nativity, no overtly Christian language. (Actually, none of the top 25 on the ASCAP list do.) Thus, you see the distinction forming between "religious" Christmas -- Christ's Mass, the celebration of the birth of Jesus -- and "secular" Christmas -- the American holiday celebrating family, giving, and rampant consumerism. It's a distinction that's often blurred with the War On Christmas crap, but there is a line there. And the Jewish Christmas songs all celebrate, perhaps glorify, this secular Christmas, with its snow, trees, bells, family values, and Santa Claus The Giver Of Toys.

Oh, and also, sex.

Makes perfect sense why anyone of any religion would want to write a Christmas song. These songs are cash cows.
posted by dw at 3:51 PM on December 13, 2008


Jews. Is there any easy revenue stream they cannot dominate?
posted by fire&wings at 3:54 PM on December 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


Also let's not forget the that the entire holiday was founded by a Jew.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 4:01 PM on December 13, 2008 [23 favorites]


fire&wings: yes...Columbian drug cartels.
posted by Postroad at 4:11 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


On dw's point, I think it's interesting how far abstracted modern Christmas jingles are from the traditional religious roots.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was a character invented as part of a Montgomery Ward promotion. He was an addition to Santa's stable of reindeer, which was an invention of Clement Clarke Moore. Santa himself was loosely based on pagan myths stapled onto Nicholas of Myra, a Turkish Saint traditionally associated with December 6th, not too far away from December 25th.

Jesus was probably born in late summer early autumn.
posted by justkevin at 4:11 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


I recall reading that Berlin wrote White Christmas partly because Jews were so generally excluded (if not explicitly vilified, as in Handel's Messiah) by the traditional music of the season, and he wanted to provide a point of participation.
posted by jamjam at 4:35 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's always bugged me how for songs like "Jingle Bells," "Let it Snow" and "Winter Wonderland," winter = Christmas somehow. I mean, honestly, December has enough festive songs. Can't we hold just a few of them over for January and February when we all really need them?
posted by Navelgazer at 4:47 PM on December 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


Also let's not forget the that the entire holiday was founded by a Jew.

Conspicuously, he failed to write a single Christmas jingle.
posted by krinklyfig at 5:01 PM on December 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


I write Christmas songs and I am a Jew. You know why?

Because Hanukkah sucks and Christmas is awesome.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:06 PM on December 13, 2008 [5 favorites]


For heaven's sake, not to mention ours, can we remove this posting before the "War Against Christmas" people discover it??? :)
posted by etaoin at 5:09 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


I used to like Christmas carols and I still don't mind many of the traditional ones and even some of those listed above. But this year and last year there seems to be a conspiracy by restaurants and stores that I frequent to play the worst modern Christmas songs over and over and over broken only by LOUD commercials and the odd even more annoying Chipmunks version of these evil memes on the "all Christmas format" some radio stations seem to adopt this time of year.

If there was any way I could shoot the speakers out and get away with it, I would do it. And I bet the employees would be even happier. Does anyone really like Santa Baby (I cringe to see that there's at least one Jew involved in its composition) or Holly Jolly Christmas? Does anyone really think this is "the best time of the year."? Even if you once liked these songs, do you really like them the 1000th time you've heard them in one week? Does this actually make people want to buy things? It makes me want to flee and hide-- or kill someone.
posted by Maias at 5:17 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Can't we hold just a few of them over for January and February when we all really need them?

I think you have identified a rich market waiting to be tapped.

You may get a bop on the nose, however, because usually by January 1 most people have had it with festive winter ditties.
posted by krinklyfig at 5:23 PM on December 13, 2008


I recall reading that Berlin wrote White Christmas partly because Jews were so generally excluded (if not explicitly vilified, as in Handel's Messiah) by the traditional music of the season, and he wanted to provide a point of participation.

Huh. I always thought Irving Berlin wrote White Christmas for the 1942 movie Holiday Inn, whose bare excuse for a plot featured a song for each major holiday of the year at an inn that only opened on holidays (Bing and his co-star do a bizarre blackface song, "Abraham," for Lincoln's birthday, believe it or not).

I don't have a clue how much Berlin was actively trying to compensate for Jewish exclusion when he wrote "White Christmas" (maybe you're thinking of this book, which appears to make that case), but I'm pretty sure a major driving force behind the creation of the song was the movie. I'd guess making the song secular came naturally to him for obvious reasons, but that's not why he wrote it in the first place.
posted by mediareport at 5:23 PM on December 13, 2008


Jesus was probably born in late summer early autumn
...as part of a Montgomery Ward promotion.
posted by Wolfdog at 5:29 PM on December 13, 2008 [4 favorites]


Btw, Bing's "White Christmas" has *nothing* on the weirdest musical number by far in Holiday Inn: Fred Astaire's 4th of July dance solo with firecrackers in his pockets. No, seriously: "Say it with Firecrackers." Three minutes of Fred Astaire and dozens of explosions.

It totally kicks Christmas' ass.
posted by mediareport at 5:36 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Here's what we do on Christmas.
posted by gman at 5:37 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yet another list.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:22 PM on December 13, 2008


Oddly enough, I'm Jewish, and the Christmas songs I find least offensive are the overtly religious ones. At least those have a purpose: "This is a holiday where Christians celebrate the birth of their God. These are their devotional songs." Most of them are religious hymns, and some of them are quite good. The "holiday songs" are just shitty saccharine bullshit that I'm subjected to every year because store owners want me to buy things.

Actually, all of the attempts to generalize Christmas into a "holiday season" strike me as more than a little disingenuous. The only reason Jews even care about Channukah is because the Christians make such a big deal about Christmas, and we don't want to feel left out. As far as Jewish holidays go, Chanukkah isn't really even in the top 10, and is actually a celebration of a military victory; the 8 candles thing is really kind of a sidenote.
posted by Afroblanco at 6:24 PM on December 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


By the way, this month's MeFi Music Challenge has (surprise surprise) a Christmas theme! Head over and check out what some of your fellow MeFiers (Jew and non-Jew alike!) are doing with "broken Christmas songs".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:26 PM on December 13, 2008


The real loser in all this is Mort Glassman whose songs; Turkey Night, Cranberry Kisses, and Thankful I'm not an Injun remain unheralded classics of the far less profitable Thanksgiving music genre.
posted by I Foody at 6:27 PM on December 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


Jewsmas.
posted by gman at 6:28 PM on December 13, 2008


Fred Astaire's 4th of July dance solo with firecrackers in his pockets. Three minutes of Fred Astaire and dozens of explosions. It totally kicks Christmas' ass.

That was incredibly underwhelming, but in fairness to Mr. Astaire, I was given the impression that the explosions would be going off in his pockets.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 6:59 PM on December 13, 2008


Conspicuously, he failed to write a single Christmas jingle.

Maybe he just wasn't very good at music? He could have been singing all the time, but people chose to forget it, instead focusing on the message.

"Christ, we apostles hate to break it to you, but you really can't carry a tune. You're a great guy, but stick with teaching and healing. We'll let Judas make our theme song."
posted by filthy light thief at 7:24 PM on December 13, 2008


"God gave Moses the 10 Commandments and then He gave Irving Berlin Easter Parade and White Christmas. The two holidays that celebrate the divinity of Christ - the divinity that's the very heart of the Jewish rejection of Christianity - and what does Irving Berlin brilliantly do? He de-Christs them both! Easter turns into a fashion show and Christmas into a holiday about snow." - Philip Roth
posted by Bromius at 7:26 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Just early adopters of outsourcing.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:38 PM on December 13, 2008


I think it's interesting how far abstracted modern Christmas jingles are from the traditional religious roots.

This is pretty interesting, historically. One of the reasons Hanukkah is bigger in American Judaism than in some other Jewish communities is that in the early 20th century, a lot of newly arrived immigrant Jews were simply adopting the celebration of Christmas as an American custom - just as they did Thanksgiving. Jewish newspapers and religious leadership at the time worked actively to position Hanukkah as the Jewish 'answer' to Christmas - in the Jewish religious calendar, it had been a very minor feast beforehand.

Why did Jews consider it just an American celebration, not an obviously Christian one? Because it kind of was. Christmas doesn't have just religious roots - it has been both a secular and a religious holiday, with both strains running parallel and sometimes one strain being much more obvious than the other. Christmas as practiced in circa 1800 America, for instance, was almost entirely secular and not closely yoked to the Nativity story. Victorian Christmas brought greater emphasis to the Nativity, and medieval carols about the Nativity became "Christmas" carols, even as new Christmas songs were written that did mention Jesus' birth. At the same time, old 'winter' or Yuletide (Yule being an astronomical holiday rather than a religious one) songs, like The Boar's Head carol and "The Holly and the Ivy" and the various wassailing carols, made a reappearance, dug up by scholars and recast as "Christmas" songs -- often with new verses added to suggest a Christian metaphor for the original song's subject. "Jingle Bells" was just a pop song written in 1876 - lots of these are also pop songs about winter - I think they stuck just because Christmas is such a highly ritualized, tradition-referencing holiday, and once something gets into the tradition it doesn't leave easily.

But my point is that it's really only very recently that Christmas has been as Christian as it has been to people in the last 50 years. It's been just as much of a secular holiday, celebrated by pagans and the nonreligious as much (if not more) than by Christians, as it has a religious holiday. It serves a lot of social ends that are more pragmatic and humanistic than spiritual. I remember hearing Irving Berlin talk about writing "White Christmas," and mentioning growing up in mixed-ethnic New York with Irish Catholic neighbors. The beauty of the Christmas tree, the surprise and specialness of the holiday, the anticipation and saturation of the festivities were not lost on him even as a child - and that, combined with the wistfulness of feeling just outside of and a little in awe of this strange tradition, might have been a perspective only a Jewish person could bring to cultural Christmas.

I recommend this book constantly: The Battle for Christmas, by Stephen Nussenbaum (a Jew). It traces the development and evolution of our modern Christmas from prehistory to recent times, and makes many of these points in great detail and with lots of provocative analysis about what Christmas is and does, and who it's for (...all of which has changed).
posted by Miko at 7:45 PM on December 13, 2008 [11 favorites]


You know what sucks? Being a Jew born the day after xmas. Cry for me.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 7:55 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Here's an NPR piece on Berlin and "White Christmas."

The Tin Pan Alley Project tells it this way - not hard to see why Christmas had some personal and emotional weight for Berlin:
Irving Berlin immigrated to the USA with his family and, until he went out on his own following his father’s death, lived in the ghetto of the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The Irish neighbors would invite him over for their Christmas celebrations. Widowed young, Berlin eventually fell in love again and married an Irish Catholic heiress, Ellin Mackay. (They sent their children to a Protestant church—just so not to unduly influence them!) On Christmas Eve, 1928, their second child, a son, died before he was four weeks old.

For Christmas, 1937, Berlin was in Beverly Hills, California—away from his family for the holidays for only the second time. He got a pleasant surprise: a short film of his family wishing him a merry Christmas. It was probably then that he first drafted out “White Christmas,"...
posted by Miko at 7:59 PM on December 13, 2008


Every year ASCAP releases a list of "its Top 25 most performed holiday songs for the past five years" but I suspect it is not a list of "the Top 25 most performed holiday songs for the past five years". Since ASCAP only cares about the accurate distribution of royalty payments to composers, lyricists and publishers they have little need to track performances of the traditional royalty-free Christmas songs.

So the phrase "most performed" is highly misleading.

Either that, or Silent Night, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, O Come, All Ye Faithful, Joy to the World, and O Holy Night have all failed to achieve the incredible popularity of Paul McCartney's Wonderful Christmastime.
posted by twoleftfeet at 8:39 PM on December 13, 2008 [6 favorites]


And not one song about eating Chinese?
posted by dhartung at 8:42 PM on December 13, 2008


And not one song about eating Chinese?

I know! They should have all gone into dentristy, like their cousins.
posted by Miko at 8:45 PM on December 13, 2008


And not one song about eating Chinese?

I repeat.
posted by gman at 8:51 PM on December 13, 2008


Also let's not forget the that the entire holiday was founded by a Jew.

Conspicuously, he failed to write a single Christmas jingle.


Pshaw.
Surely you're not saying we have the resources to save the poor from their lot. There will be poor always, pathetically struggling, look at the good things you've got. Think while you still have me, move while you still see me. You'll be lost, you'll be so sooooorrrrry, when I'm gooooone!
Checkmate.
posted by Lemurrhea at 9:06 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


jamjam's link impugning Messiah shouldn't be read without also reading this response by Cambridge's Ruth Smith.
posted by Jahaza at 9:27 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Most (modern) Christmas music is awful and the worse it is, the more it gets overplayed. Plus, it makes me anxious, serving to remind me of the holiday responsibilities I haven't gotten around to yet.

There used to be stores that would not play Christmas music before Thanksgiving, at least, but I don't know if any are still making this commitment in the current economy. If you know of any that don't play it AT ALL, I will be happy to go out and finish my shopping there.
posted by Morrigan at 9:30 PM on December 13, 2008


Being a Jew born the day after xmas

Just wait until Boxing Day gets a larger following.
posted by drezdn at 10:09 PM on December 13, 2008


As a pianist/singer who's had to drag out the ol' Christmas song list every December and play the same old songs at gig for years, it bothers me that so few new ones take hold over time.

It seems to take quite a few years to make them accessibly recognizable to the general public as Christmases come and go. I can only think of a few "newer" ones: pianist Vince Guaraldi's great "Christmastime is Here" (from the Charlie Brown special) which took at least a decade or more to become a true standard, Mariah Carey's " All I Want For Christmas is You" (which, NBC last night called the most popular holiday song ringtone in America) and the now classic RnB "This Christmas" by Donny Hathaway. Other possible contenders are David Foster's beautiful "My Grown-up Christrmas List" and of course, John Lennon's "Happy Christmas (War is Over)" which is a lesser performance-oriented one because of the "war is over" part. .

Every year, I just wonder why it takes so long for newer Holiday musical fare to catch on. Think of any others (and don't mention McCartney's or that hideous Grandma/Reindeer deal)?

And the ones that DO catch on are always secular ones, which is OK on its own merits. I'm all for tolerance and diversity, but none of that seems to apply anymore to any new Christmas music that deals with, at least to Christians, the reason for the season.

Guess I'm just Jingle-Belled out.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 11:08 PM on December 13, 2008


Not a Christmas song, but who can forget "Spirit in the Sky" by Norman Greenbaum?
posted by CG at 2:25 AM on December 14, 2008


Does anyone really like Santa Baby

Sacrilege! Eartha Kitt singing "Santa Baby" captures the American Christmas spirit (cue scene of Wal-Mart stampede) better than anything else out there.

Oh, and after going to a Holiday Fest at one of the churches in my neighborhood here in Berlin, I discovered that in German the name for dreidel is "Judisches Roulette," which is about 100 times more awesome.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 2:44 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Tom Lehrer referenced this phenomenon quite nicely with his own "I'm spending Hanukkah in Santa Monica".
Also, I'm told that Jingle Bells is so popular in Russia precisely because it's a seasonal song with no Christian references and was therefore ideologically OK back in the day.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 4:01 AM on December 14, 2008


Wow. I never knew Noddy Holder was Jewish.
posted by salmacis at 4:30 AM on December 14, 2008


. Think of any others (and don't mention McCartney's or that hideous Grandma/Reindeer deal)?

Just thinking of earnest, piano-player friendly ones, there's:
All Alone on Christmas by Steven van Zandt. Sorry about the cheesy video, but this song makes a great cover and has a sing-along friendly finish that people love.
2000 Miles, by the Pretenders, is one of my favorites.
Someday at Christmas, What Christmas Means to Me, and One Little Christmas Tree by Steve Wonder
Celebrate Me Home, by Kenny Loggins
Thank God It's Christmas, by Queen

As someone who listens to a lot of music, I don't think there's any shortage at all of new Christmas songs, either Christian-themed or not. Even a little Googling around will show you all kinds of Christmas albums with new compositions by artists of every stripe. It's just that so few are keepers. Most are formulaic and either jokey or syrupy - a few rise to the surface, year after year, and those become our new classics. I don't even think that there have been fewer classics produced in our lifetime than earlier - it's just that there was already a large existing body of Christmas music already when we were born, and our contribution seems small, but when you look at it decade by decade there have been new 'classics' produced continously. And there is nothing modern about bad Christmas songs either - the Victorians produced plenty of turkeys, and the same era we're crediting with our classics also gave us 'classics' like "Mamacita, Donde Esta Santa Claus," "Mele Kalikimaka," "[I'm gettin'] Nuttin' for Christmas," and "Dominic the Donkey." So I don't think there's anything unusually good or bad about the Christmas music of our own times - it's just that any time you pit the output of the last 2 or so decades against all the other Christmas music, you aren't comparing apples to apples.

Here's a nice list on Wikipedia of Christmas songs that have made music tracking charts since about the 20s. It's pretty neat - I wish it were chronologically instead of alphabetically organized, but it's interesting.

Seekerofsplendor, there's really a lot of wonderful recent Christmas music and I encourage you to go exploring. In part, it's the efforts of people like you who find great songs and cover them and expose them to new audiences that create classics.
posted by Miko at 5:50 AM on December 14, 2008


I guess what bothers me the most about Christmas music is the compulsory nature of the whole thing.

Business owners of the world, I know that you may have some wonderful associations with Christmas. I know that when you hear all those songs that I'm thoroughly sick of, you think "aaaaaawwwww, sunshine and happiness and rainbows and Norman Rockwell family and gifts and togetherness and holiday cheer!" But please accept the possibility that to others, December is just another month, albeit one where they have to listen to shitty music and are expected to get into the "spirit of the season" just because everyone else is doing it. And if your relativism-filter can handle it, please understand that to some, this is actually the most depressing time of the year, the time when loneliness is most acute, precisely because everyone around them is insisting on "holiday cheer."

God, I'm tired of Christmas music. Every damn year, every damn place I go, I hear it. And you know what? Stripped of their "holiday cheer" associations, most of these songs are actually quite annoying. Perky, poppy little ditties of the blandest variety imaginable, designed to appeal to the largest audience possible, urging me to feel some sort of emotion for a holiday I don't celebrate and a "holiday season" that just makes me kinda depressed. And of course, they're supposed to make me want to buy things.

Yes, business owners of the world. I know that you love Christmas and that you love Christmas music. But I ask that you please keep it to yourselves. Not everyone wants to hear it, and a surprising number of us are pretty sick of it. I don't know a whole hell of a lot about your "holiday cheer," but what the hell is so "cheerful" about endless repetition and cultural chauvinism?
posted by Afroblanco at 7:52 AM on December 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


SeekerofSplendor: ... Think of any others (and don't mention McCartney's or that hideous Grandma/Reindeer deal)?:

(The) Night Before Christmas (youtube).

Vienna Teng's Atheist Christmas Carol (youtube). My mother in law loved it until she heard the title. Her loss.

Maybe this Christmas (if you get past the OC ties) (youtube).

I'm inordinately fond of Andy William's Song and a Christmas Tree version of the twelve days.

(I'm on my way off to an afternoon of singing and playing holiday music, or I'd find more.)
posted by jlkr at 8:17 AM on December 14, 2008


I'm reminded of when people were complaining about the ubiquity of that My Humps song, which I still have never heard in its entirety. I hardly ever hear any Christmas music and am rarely exposed to the manufactured holiday cheer, but then I find most retailers and restaurants plenty annoying and distasteful places the other 11 months of the year to begin with.

Considering that the majority of places that play canned Christmas music are commercial establishments, I find the criticism that it's "supposed to make me want to buy things" sort of weak. First off, all canned music is supposed to make you want to buy things, and second, well, you're in a damn store already (Assuming, of course, these are the sorts of places where the majority of your exposure has taken place).

Regarding the business' apparent love of Christmas music - I get that your tongue's partly in cheek, but they're just doing what their patrons expect. Rarely will a customer make a point of complaining about Christmas music, but when I worked in a restaurant, we would get a lot of written, verbal, and phone gripes if we weren't playing Christmas music immediately after the beginning of December.

I appreciate the cultural alienation of a non-Christmas person being surrounded by Christmasy stuff, but all that crap is just another come-on, like Big Ted's Used Car Lot Superbowl Blow-Out, The Uber-Nationalist House of Pancake's Fourth of July Buffet Special, or those really disgusting We Remember Signs stores had up on the anniversary of September 11. It doesn't mean anything, it's just the season-appropriate marketing strategy.

Shorter version: LEAVE CHRISTMAS MUSIC ALONE!!!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:47 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


What? No Fairytale of New York?
posted by stet at 8:56 AM on December 14, 2008


Also, I've said it before, but I would just like to reaffirm my nearly ineffable enjoyment of Wonderful Christmastime, as well as this parody Lentrohamsanin posted in another thread.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:06 AM on December 14, 2008


Perhaps the saddest song about Christmas, Stan Rogers' "First Christmas..." away from home. One verse describes an elderly widower's first Christmas in a nursing home. Unbelievable pathos. Completely out of place on the live Performance album Between the Breaks Live.
posted by ohshenandoah at 9:20 AM on December 14, 2008


I love Christmas music. Always have. When I was a kid, I had a "Kids' Favorite Christmas Songs" record (yes, this was the early 80s, it was a REAL RECORD) that my parents had to *hide* the other 11 months of the year because I didn't care, I'd listen to it eight hundred thousand times no matter if it was snowing or 80 degrees outside.

I still love Christmas music and sometimes after the holidays, a few stray songs will stay on my iPod and I will confess that even in July, I don't always skip over them.

I was raised Buddhist with Jewish overtones. My dad's family is Jewish and my mom (the custodial parent) made sure to include plenty of Hannukah and dreidels and latkes in my childhood. Christmas when I was a kid was an entirely secular holiday which pretty much took over the whole month of December. My mom's family is Swedish, so Lucia Day on December 13th was observed with a big dinner and a present (and no, I didn't wear candles on my head - I was a clumsy kid). Christmas Eve likewise was a huge ordeal, complete with Swedish Meatballs. Then came the actual Christmas Day, which is also my mom's birthday. Add Hannukah in there, and it's a month long holiday smorgasbord!

I love it - the whole month of lights and candles and tinsel and sparkly things and food - lots and lots of food... I'm not surprised to see so much written by Jews because this whole Winter Solstice season of light thing is kind of inspiring and those sleighbells are highly infectious.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:26 AM on December 14, 2008


I love Christmas carols so much. I grew up on them and even as I'm at work, I'll hum them to myself. However, I'm not a big fan of modern Christmas songs for a few reasons. First, a lot of the newer (last 70 year) songs are not made to be sung by the audience, and I'm someone who loves singing the songs as opposed to just hearing them. Two, though I'm not really religious, I don't mind the religious overtones just as I don't mind celebrating the Yule season or reading about St. Crispin's Day or somewhat. I like the ritual. Christmas is both a festival and holy day, and so there's something great about celebrating an event and getting into the reasons, even if you don't believe or whatnot. I hate the codifying of Christmas because I see it as unecessary. I want to wassil, I want to go around and wish people well, I want to sing, and if you give any excuse, I will do so! Hell, I'll celebrate anyone's holiday if they have good music and fine food.

However, this should not be to say that there aren't good carols being written at this very moment, only that I'm not aware of any that have a good tune and mystical words.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 10:11 AM on December 14, 2008


Here in Israel you won't hear Christmas songs often. Only in areas where Christian Arabs live - Haifa and Nazareth. Well, also in Tel Aviv pubs, when foreign tourists drink and celebrate )))
posted by Leo Golan at 11:43 AM on December 14, 2008


I'm reminded of when people were complaining about the ubiquity of that My Humps song...

Did someone say "My Humps" and "Christmas"? (Previously)
posted by naoko at 11:47 AM on December 14, 2008


Grapefruitmoon - are you my mother?

Has anyone heard Merry Christmas from the Family playing background in a retail establishment? I've been waiting years for that to hit the playlist.

Is Robert Earl Keen locked out? Is this finally proof of that international Jewish conspiracy I keep hearing about? Or are the ZOP people uncomfortable with the ultimately pro-Mexican attitudes of this song, and leaving this meaningful and, in the words of Lisa Simpson, "APT" carol, in limbo?

The WSJ had a story about ohrwurms this week, which is password protected as far as I can tell. Too bad - the illustration was amazing.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 12:12 PM on December 14, 2008


Grapefruitmoon - are you my mother?

Signs point to no. As far as I know, barring any alien abductions involving lost time and repressed memories, I have yet to reproduce.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 12:35 PM on December 14, 2008


One of the cool things about living in Puerto Rico (besides the fact that our windows stay open all year round) is that the Christmas songs are all different. Some of them, it took me two years to realize they were Christmas songs. One of them, I thought it was an advertising jingle because I only ever heard it in one particular grocery store on the loudspeakers, but the following year, when they sang it at school, I put two and two together.

Its like a different country down here.
posted by Michael Roberts at 1:22 PM on December 14, 2008


Has anyone heard Merry Christmas from the Family playing background in a retail establishment?

Yes, actually, I have, a couple of times. Mind you, it wasn't Bed Bath and Beyond, which has been blasting them out since sometime in August, but at non-chain store.

Robert Earl's song is in my top five favorite secular Christmas songs. Let's see, no particular order... "Fairytale of New York," Tom Lehrer's "Christmas Carol," The Kinks' "Father Christmas," and Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)."

I've been listening to "Sister Winter" by Sufjan Stevens a lot of late, though. It may be the most melancholy thing you could put on your stereo this time of year.
posted by dw at 10:15 PM on December 14, 2008


I've been listening to "Sister Winter" by Sufjan Stevens a lot of late, though. It may be the most melancholy thing you could put on your stereo this time of year.

I'll see your "Sister Winter" and raise you <>"That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!" from the same album.
posted by naoko at 10:37 PM on December 14, 2008


Whoops, how about the link this time:

"That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!"
posted by naoko at 10:38 PM on December 14, 2008


Seems like the least you can do to make up for killing our Lord and Saviour.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:13 AM on December 15, 2008


Saviour, save yourself.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:57 PM on December 15, 2008


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