Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer
Imagine a situation where everyone you know is invited to a killer party, but you were not. (Given that we are a site for pop culture geeks, I am betting that perhaps I am not the only one who can relate to this scenario). It’s a bad feeling, isn’t it? Now, imagine that this party is openly discussed around you, with no one caring whatsoever that you were excluded. Let’s also pretend that invitations were sent out two months prior to the party date, so people begin buzzing about it WAY in advance. Many of the invitees are so excited about this party that they decorate their homes on the outside so everyone can share in their joy. Marketers catch wind of it, and start advertising for all the cool things that people can buy to get themselves fully ready for the fun they’re bound to have. And as the date of the party grows nearer, everyone around you gets whipped up into a frenzy of euphoric anticipation, until the day comes when the party rocks the house while you can only watch it happen from outside the window.
This, in a nutshell, is how I (and most other Jews) feel about Christmas.
Frankly, I can’t even imagine how Jewish parents explain this to their kids (nor can I remember how my parents explained it to me). How do you make a five-year-old kid understand that this holiday that all of their friends talk about at school, and every commercial on TV discusses, and every house in town is decorated for (not to mention the school, and downtown, etc.) is not for them? How do you THEN explain that it’s not a punishment? Because just like in that party analogy above, there was nothing worse for me than hearing about all the great fun I was not going to have, nor would I ever have.
For me, the worst of this time of year was and still is the music. Music has the power to elicit strong emotions from most of us (watch a Disney movie during the climactic hug to understand just how true this is), and once a song is linked to a feeling, it can be almost impossible to separate them. My emotional timeline with Christmas songs goes something like this: at first, I felt confused…then left out…then resentful…then angry…then hateful. Today, after cooling down somewhat, Christmas and I have reached an uneasy détente. This pact does not apply to the music, however.
Christmas songs as a genre sort of irk me, as they still burrow deep inside of me and make me feel like that little left out kid. However, most of them are merely annoying. A few of them though infuse me with a hatred that goes right down to my core. I hate them not only for their theme, but also for their very existence. Here is a list of what are, in one Jewish man’s opinion, the worst Christmas songs of all time, counting down to the worst:
5. The Twelve Days of Christmas – At first blush, this is merely an annoying song. It is incredibly repetitive, and it does seem to go on for three days, but it’s a harmless thing, at the end of the day. But the one thing that rockets this song all the way up to number 5 on my list of worst songs ever is the fact that so many people seem to think they can make this song FUNNY. HOW MANY MORE marketing people are going to come up with the HILARIOUS concept of making a commercial where one person receives Leaping Lords and Piping Pipers while another gets the advertised product? HOW MANY MORE times can we see cutesy animated version of this song before we can all consider the market saturated. And lastly, HOW MANY MORE “satirical” versions of this song can the world take? I mean, we can only barely stop laughing at this one:
Before we get to laugh at this one:
And this one:
Each one is absolutely hilarious in its own way, but when will people get really smart, make twelve equally hilarious versions, and then combine them into the ULTIMATE satire song? Sure, it’d take two weeks to listen to it…but you can’t put a price on comedy, right?
4. Jingle Bell Rock/Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree/Winter Wonderland/Sleigh Ride/ Etc. – To those who can’t see what these songs all have in common, congratulations! You have never worked in a mall before. You see, while many people just assume that everyone celebrates Christmas, advertisers and retailers can’t afford to do that. Because of this, it creates something of a conundrum. It’s a proven fact that Christmas songs increase consumers’ willingness to spend money during the Holiday Season, and yet if songs that are too overtly about Christmas are played, then stores risk alienating non-Christian (and non-religious Christian) shoppers. The solution for many malls and stores is to stock up on “safe” songs; songs that evoke the season without bringing up such non-commercially lucrative topics such as Jesus and Mary. Thus, for every time you hear a true Christmas song on the radio or while shopping, you will hear one of these songs two to three times. These songs are about nothing, have no message, and tell no story. They are just an amalgam of rhyming lines, typically sung with some sleigh bells in the background, and there’s no escaping them. (I base this claim on experiential evidence. Several years ago, I worked in a mall. For the rest of the year, the mall had a music loop of pre-approved selling songs that restarted about every two weeks. However, from November until January, they switched to a holiday loop. This series of songs reset about every three hours. This means that during a typical workday, you’d hear almost three entire loops of this set. This set consisted of two separate versions of Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, and FOUR versions of Jingle Bell Rock. It’s enough to shove a yuletide icepick into your eardrums.)
3. Feliz Navidad (I Wanna Wish you a Merry Christmas) – I can almost hear the songwriter’s thought process as he put pen to paper for this monstrosity. “Okay…so I want to make a million dollars, but I only have one line of melody written. What can I do? I suppose I could turn that line into a fully fleshed out song…or MAYBE I could just write one line of lyrics, then repeat it over and over and over again until it worms its way into people’s brains for the rest of their lives! Hey…why don’t I translate that one line into another language, and then put BOTH versions in the song? That way, it’ll feel ‘multi-cultural,’ and it’ll sell to that many more people! I’m a genius.” This is another song that feels like it lasts twelve minutes every time it comes on the air. Hell, it’s possible that just by reading the title, you already have it running through your head. That songwriter is one evil genius, is he not?
(Side note: As I write this, a commercial featuring the song Sleigh Ride just aired on television, and I find myself whistling Feliz Navidad against my will.)
2. The Little Drummer Boy – I know I’m going to take some heat for this one, but hear me out. The truth is that, in the grand scheme of things, I kind of like this song. That “Pa-rum-pa-pum-pum” part always kind of makes me smile. However, this song is ruined for me by two specific memories. Firstly, The Little Drummer Boy was the song used as the mood music for the Misery trailer that played on television during one of my formative years. As I discussed in an earlier confessional article, that trailer did more to screw up my psyche than just about anything else in those days, and to this day that song conjures up images of Kathy Bates wielding an axe. The second story is much more complicated.
During my first post-college year, I worked for a children’s theater, in the education department. One day, the artistic director informed my co-worker and I that our jobs had been “upgraded,” and that in addition to our regular duties, we were now going to be understudies for all the mainstage shows. All this would mean, we were assured, was that we’d get our names in the programs, and that we’d watch a performance so we’d be aware of what was going on. That year, their Christmas show was an original musical based on…The Little Drummer Boy. I distinctly remember turning to my co-worker at the end of the day on December 23rd, and stating out loud how happy I was that they had never asked us to go on. It was a good thing too; the part I was understudying was a singing role out of my range (not that I knew a single note of the music anyway) that had a complex choreographed swordfight at the end. I went home that night, and got the phone call at 6:20pm. I was to go on in forty minutes. Before I knew what was happening, I was backstage ready for my cue. I had a microphone in my ear and a script in my hand, but clothes that didn’t fit, no glasses, and sandals that were way too big. Toward the end of the show, when people realized that this swordfight was coming up, it was decided that I was to switch roles, and play Joseph, the father of Jesus. This required a quick change that wasn’t quick enough; by the time I was shoved out on stage as Joseph (this time without beard, glasses, script, microphone, or clue), everyone on stage was staring up at Mary and Jesus – and hence my mark – singing The Little Drummer Boy (a song I didn’t know). Every single detail of that night is seared into my memory, and not in a good way. I ask you, how can a man go through an ordeal like that and NOT grow to hate this song? Sorry, Drummer Boy…I know you mean well.
1. I Have a Little Dreydel – Ah…a curveball, you’re thinking! This was supposed to be a list of Christmas songs…and yet he threw in a Hanukkah song! What gives? Well, two things. First of all, for all intents and purposes, this IS a Christmas song. I do not mean that it is about Christmas, but (like with many things surrounding the modern holiday of Hanukkah) it was created less as a song in its own right than as a Jewish counterpoint to Christmas. They have fun songs to sing? SO TOO SHALL WE! I guarantee you that, in a world without Christmas, there would be no I Have a Little Dreydel. Second of all, I despise this song with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns because non-Jewish people will cite and sing this song as their sole piece of evidence that they know anything at all about the holiday. Now don’t get me wrong here: Hanukkah is meaningless in the grand scheme of Judaism while Christmas is one of the two most important days of the Christian year. I get that. But I would MUCH rather someone know NOTHING about Hanukkah, than ONLY know this worthless, stupid, meaningless song. Spinning a dreydel is a very VERY small component of this (admittedly already small) holiday, and most people never play it even once throughout the year. Imagine if you asked me if I knew anything about Christmas, and the only thing I knew (or thought it was important to know) was a song about drinking eggnog. Imagine if EVERYONE was the same way. “Oh…you celebrate Christmas? That’s cool. ‘I have a cup of eggnog, I’ll drink it far and near. And by the time I’m finished, I’ll be filled with good cheer. OH, eggnog, eggnog, eggnog, I’ll drink it far and near. Eggnog, eggnog, eggnog, I’ll be filled with good cheer.’” Now, will that have encapsulated your experiences with Christmas? I rest my case.
These days, my yuletide anger is nearly all but vanished, and so all of these songs don’t bring on nearly the amount of rage that they once did. Maybe I’m growing older and wiser, or maybe it has something to do with the fact that, due to in-laws and step-families that celebrate Christmas, I now have traditions of my own. These songs will always be annoying to me, but trust me; they ALL sound better when you’re invited to the party.