In spite of American advertising telling us otherwise for the better part of the last month, the Christmas season has finally started in earnest now that the Thanksgiving turkey has been eaten. I don’t think about Christmas until Black Friday, preferring to celebrate one holiday at a time. It always bothers me to see Christmas lights hanging before the turkey is even in the oven (or on the smoker, which you should absolutely do and never look back).
Consider it my corollary to the Crash Davis monologue (starts at 1:19, language warning) in Bull Durham including the line that presents should be opened on Christmas morning, not Christmas Eve. My family well knows not to start singing Christmas songs until after my tryptophan coma wears off.
But once the retail therapy begins on Black Friday, I am Mr. Christmas. I love Christmas music and driving around looking at all the Christmas displays in the neighborhood. I even love looking around my house and thinking that a Hallmark movie threw up in my living room.
But there are some things I hate, like nonsensical lyrics in some otherwise good Christmas songs. So here are the five worst lines in the Christmas music canon.
1. “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” (Andy Williams, 1964)
Recorded in 1963 by Andy Williams, this song is a classic and almost ubiquitous in advertising for whatever season Madison Avenue wants you to feel good about. As the song celebrates the many traditions for Christmas gatherings (“Parties for hosting/Marshmallows for roasting”) it includes this line, “There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long long ago.”
Sure, there will be scary ghost stories if you watch “A Christmas Carol” or “Scrooged” or any of the other adaptations of Charles Dickens’s classic. But that is just about it. I, for one, have always been annoyed by this line. I prefer my Christmas upbeat and sans ghosts.
Two of my daughters are in a local theater company Christmas spectacular, and they specifically requested to sing this line during the performance. Kids have a funny way of making your sarcasm turn full circle back to you.
2. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” (Band Aid, 1984)
During the heyday of musical charity songs, a bunch of British pop stars recorded this now-standard in 1984, choosing the name Band Aid (get it?). There is just so much wrong with this song, though.
For one, “the only water that flows is the bitter sting of tears”? A little heavy-handed, no? But the most egregious is Bono’s earnest and passionate line (at 1:30), “Tonight thank God it’s them instead of yoooouuuuuu.”
We can pray for those less fortunate than us. We can pray thanksgiving for what God has provided for us. But to thank God that someone else has misfortune in place of us? That’s some self-indulgent theology right there.
Also, want to know why America won the Revolutionary War? Compare the British star power in Band Aid to the American stars in “We Are the World.”
3. “Mary Did You Know?” (various artists)
4. “Here Comes Santa Claus” (Gene Autry, 1947)
The Singing Cowboy recorded this song in 1947 and it was most famously covered by the King himself in 1957. Every child knows at least the first verse about Santa (or “Santy Claus,” as Autry would say) coming down Santa Claus Lane.
But the last lines are the ones that get to me. “Let’s give thanks to the Lord above, because Santa Claus comes tonight.” While the song does have a nice thought to it about peace on Earth if we follow the light, it seems a bit materialistic to thank the Lord for Santa Claus coming tonight. The line also rings too incongruous to the rest of the song for my taste, like the writers wanted to make sure that they mentioned God in a Christmas song while also paying homage to the jolly elf in red.
5. “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays” (*NSync, 1998)
Focus-grouped boy band pop at its finest, J.T. and the boys produced this poppy single in 1998. Like everything that came out of this era, it was tightly packaged and very catchy. I’ll even admit that I like the song.
To appeal to all fans from all walks of life, though, the lyrics were very careful to not exclude anyone. Ninety-eight percent of the song speaks of Christmas and the generic Happy Holidays greeting.
However, at the very end is the catch-all line, “No matter your holiday, it’s a time to celebrate.” I’m glad the songwriters made sure to make the song 100 percent inclusive. Wouldn’t have wanted to leave any dollars on the table.
Now, as a palate cleanser, I leave you with my pick for best Christmas carol, “Angels We Have Heard on High.”