It’s December 24, which means—like it or not—you’ve probably been bombarded with Christmas music for at least the past month. I fall firmly in the “like it” category, even though a lot of the songs are bleak and depressing.
But wait, you might be thinking. Christmas songs are happy and uplifting! Santa and ho-ho-ho and angels we have heard on high, right?!
I hate to break it to you, but some of the most time-honored classics are filled with tales of woe. The lyrics are enough to make Scrooge’s “Bah, humbug!” refrain sound downright cheery. Don’t believe me? I submit the following articles for your consideration.
EXHIBIT A: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
First performed by Judy Garland in the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis, this beloved holiday ditty is the third most-performed Christmas song according to ASCAP. It takes first place for the most depressing, according to me! The original lyrics were such a downer, they had to be rewritten:
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
It may be your last
Next year we all may be living in the past
Yikes. The revised version isn’t much better; even when it aims for the upbeat—“next year we might be together, if the Fates allow”—it falls short: “Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.”
Sheesh. Makes you think the person singing the song is secretly wishing for a Remington shotgun wrapped up in a bright, shiny bow, and a carton of ammo in his stocking.
When Frank Sinatra recorded this song in 1957, he asked cowriter Hugh Martin to get rid of that muddling through nonsense. “The name of my album is A Jolly Christmas,” he told Martin. “Do you think you could jolly up that line for me?” Nobody turns down Ol’ Blue Eyes, which is why Frank’s version substitutes the line, “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.”
EXHIBIT B: “Please Come Home for Christmas”
It’s only appropriate that this tune was penned in 1960 by a blues singer, because it’ll send you into fits of depression. No other song smacks of desperation like this one! Right off the bat, you know you’re in for a melancholy ride; the lyrics open with, “Bells will be ringing this sad, sad news/Oh, what a Christmas to have the blues.” It gets even worse:
My baby’s gone
I have no friends
To wish me greetings once again
Christmas songs shouldn’t revolve around sorrow, grief, and pain, but this one does. Makes you hope the protagonist’s stocking is filled with Prozac and the phone number for the national suicide hotline.
EXHIBIT C: “Blue Christmas”
This song was first recorded in 1948, but I think we can all agree the definitive version is performed by Elvis Presley (if not, I’m sorry, but we can no longer be friends). Long live the King, but this song is so full of morose and longing, it makes you think maybe his untimely death at the age of 42 was a blessing in disguise that spared him from future heartache.
I’ll have a blue Christmas without you
I’ll be so blue just thinking about you
You’ll be doing alright with your Christmas of white
But I’ll have a blue, blue blue blue Christmas
Emphasis on “blue.” Got it.
Look, heartbreak sucks, but for god’s sake, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get over her (or him) already. These are the holidays. Have another glass of eggnog. Move on. There are plenty of fish in the sea.
EXHIBIT D: “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem called “Christmas Bells” in 1863 in response to all the death and destruction surrounding the Civil War, and somebody thought, “This would make a great Christmas song!” Okaayyy….
And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men
Cynical much? (And rightfully so, I might add. Longfellow’s poem is a masterpiece that perfectly captured the sentiment of the time. But just because it contains the words “peace on earth” does not mean it belongs up there with “Frosty the Snowman.”)
Oh, and speaking of: I hate to break it to you, but…
EXHIBIT E: “Frosty the Snowman”
If you’re wondering how a song about a jolly happy soul with a corncob pipe, a button nose, and two eyes made out of coal can possibly make this list, let’s boil it down to the basics (no pun intended): Frosty is going to die.
Frosty the Snowman
Knew the sun was hot that day
So he said let’s run
And we’ll have some fun
Now before I melt away
Can you imagine how traumatized those poor kids are going to be when Frosty goes thumpety thump-thump before turning into a puddle right before their eyes?! Sure, he tells them not to cry because he’ll be back again some day, but with climate change and global warming pretty much a foregone conclusion for most of us, that’s an awfully optimistic stance.
Between Rudolph experiencing bullying and discrimination, George Michael giving his heart but then having it given away the very next day, grandma getting trampled in the street by a rogue reindeer, and—gulp!—that poor kid who wants to buy his dying mother shoes for Christmas, the holidays are enough to send you over the edge of despair.
All I can say is, thank god for Burl Ives, who wants us all to have a holly, jolly Christmas, because—in case you didn’t hear—it’s the best time of the year.
Now that’s a sentiment I can get behind.
Hope y’all have the merriest of Christmases, and remember: if the Eagles start lamenting about the loneliness of the holidays, you can always turn off the radio.