My Trouble With Christmas, Part I: Songs

Here’s the thing:

Some of the songs we sing are about a story in a context celebrated by Christianity, aka, the dominant religion of the Western World, which comes from the conflation of two different stories.

One is in a book called Luke, about an old pregnant woman, a young pregnant woman, some angels, a baby, more angels, and some shepherds. It has a stable. No star.

The other is in a book called Matthew, about a man named Joseph, some angels, some Middle Eastern astrologers, a little boy, a paranoid king, and some ethnic cleansing. It has a house. No stable.

Neither story has a donkey or an innkeeper. Neither has a drummer boy. Neither has a baby that doesn’t cry. That’s all extra stuff the church and songwriters and storytellers and TV shows and advertising executives made up. But, hey, everybody likes it when a story is more interesting.

“O Little Town of Bethlehem.” “We Three Kings.” “O Holy Night.” “Sweet Little Jesus Boy.” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” “Silent Night.” “Joy to the World.” We sing them, whether we are adherents to that religion or not, and whether the stories follow clear narrative lines or not. Sort of like patriotic songs, or love songs, that we don’t pay much attention to. Or Disco.


Some of the songs we sing are about the European and Northern North American Winter Solstice.

“Let It Snow.” “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” “Winter Wonderland.” “Jingle Bells.” “White Christmas.” ”

this always upset me because i grew up mostly in south Texas where it was hot and i love cold and snow and rain and mountains, and at Christmas, we sing all these songs about winter, but there’s no winter down there. So I sang, longingly, about sleigh rides, and warm fires, and snow snow snow snow snow – but those things never came. And it’s a setup, because most of these songs were written by folks who live in New York and so on, and then it just got going, and then it was California (where it doesn’t snow), and even though most of the population of the US lives where it DOESN’T snow in December, we can’t help ourselves but sing this stuff.

Oh, and, I’m relatively certain that it didn’t snow in Bethlehem.


Some of the songs we sing are about Commercialization and Cultural Norms around December 1 – Jan 2.

All the Santa Claus songs. “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was written by an employee of Montgomery Ward department stores in 1939. “Holly Jolly Christmas” comes from the 1964 TV special about Rudolph. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” “Silver Bells.” “Run Rudolph Run.” “Merry Christmas, Darling.” “Blue Christmas.” “Santa Baby.” “It’s Christmastime Pretty Baby.” They’re about the holiday – so – we sing lots of Christmas songs about Christmas and The Most Wonderful Time of The Year. It’s weird.

And that’s not to mention anything about New Year’s Eve, the bastard sibling of Christmas.

I love Christmas … and, like many things I love and believe in, it also confuses me.

NOTE: Jesus wasn’t born on December 25 or 24 or whenever. I mean, maybe. Nobody knows when Jesus was born; the ancient world didn’t keep birth records. The European Christian Church decided to assign a religious feast – a “mass” – to Jesus Christ – as in “Christ’s Mass” aka “Christmas” – on December 25, which was a religious feast day in the Roman Empire and the Church wanted to get in on it. #marketing

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