Jolly Up That Line

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.

12 thoughts on “Jolly Up That Line

  1. Okay, mostly I just read your blog posts when they show up in my email inbox and never bother to comment (other than in my head), but I simply cannot let this go. While you are correct in much of what you say here, you fail to acknowledge how I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day ENDS.

    During the Christmas season of 2016 (you remember what happened on November 8th of that year, right?) I heard this song and it utterly sucker punched me. Particularly the stanza you quote. But then the last part kicked in, and it literally brought me to tears. Three years later, things are much worse, and also somewhat better, and I’m still waiting for this to become more than a mere hope:

    “Then rang the bells more loud and deep
    God is not dead, nor does he sleep
    The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
    With peace on earth, good will to men”

    And with that, I shall bid you a very merry Christmas. (Check out my FB page for this year’s humorous holiday letter, if you haven’t seen it.)

    (PS, they sell big bags of Dot’s Pretzels at Winco now for under six bucks. Woot!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Lisa! Long time, no read. Hope you and Bob are doing well! Yes, you are correct, the song does end on an upbeat note. In that sense, the writers redeemed themselves at the end (whereas poor Elvis is simply going to be blue, blue, blue forever).

      It sounds like Dot’s Pretzels are becoming readily available pretty much everywhere. That’s awesome! Enjoy!

      Have a very happy new year!


  2. I like it too, Mark. In fact, being in retail, I hear Christmas music from right after Halloween until the first of the New Year. A lot of people I work with dread it, but I love this time of year, so I could listen to Christmas music even in summer. 🙂

    But I also agree that some of the lyrics are kind of melancholy and bittersweet. “Frosty the Snowman” is most definitely one of those.

    LOVE the photograph of the tree, the snow, and the Christmas tree balls. GORGEOUS capture!

    Wishing you and Tara a faaaaaaaabulous Christmas Day!


    1. I actually have played Christmas music in July. One year I did that at work and drove the guy in the cubicle across from mine mad. Haha.

      It’s looking like we’re going to have a white Christmas. Hope you get a little white to brighten up the city, too! Have a very merry Christmas!!


  3. I actually avoid Christmas music like the plague. Not sure why you didn’t include the WORST Xmas song of all time . . . The Christmas Shoes! Talk about a downer!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t know how I missed that. Too tired from the festivities is my excuse! Hope your days were full of merriment.


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