You know that song “Do They Know It’s Christmas”? I can’t speak for “They” (in the context of the song, I’m guessing starving children somewhere), but the answer to that song for the rest of us is, “Yes.” Yes, of course we know it’s Christmas because we’re listening to that godawful song. That one, and countless others, are pumped into every tv commercial, shopping mall, restaurant, drugstore, and retail outlet in the world from the day after Halloween until New Year’s Eve, and it’s too much.
I’ve worked retail every holiday season of my adult life and there’s a lot not to like. People are pushy, people are stressed, too few employees handle too much demand, and so on and so forth. That said, I think the worst thing about working the holiday season has to be the holiday music.
I’m not anti-Christmas music or anything, but there are simply too few options to pump through a store’s speaker system this time of the year, and the repetition is awful. The store I’m working at now plays a mix of throbbing house beats and angsty hipster garbage during the rest of the year, and the Christmas playlist is a terrible mix of both. We have a remix of Bing Crosby’s White Christmas (because if any song needs a techno-mix it’s that one?) and a version of Sleigh Ride by .fun which is as awful as it sounds.
By far, the worst offender is Zooey Deschanel and her “band”, She & Him. That’s enough, Zooey. We hear her warble through Sleigh Ride, Baby It’s Cold Outside, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, and Little Saint Nick (with the always insightful holiday refrain, “Christmas comes this time each year”). Last year, OMG Blog (a site I visit often) held a contest because they were giving away two holiday CDs: Tracey Thorn’s Tinsel and Lights (which is excellent) and Zooey Deschanel’s A Very She & Him Christmas (which is not). OMG asked contestants to write who they would rather host for a holiday party, Tracey or Zooey? This is what I wrote to them:
The thing is, comparing Zooey Deschanel to Tracey Thorn is like comparing apples to Tracey Thorn. That is to say, there's no comparison. I'd invite Tracey Thorn because she exudes cool with no effort. Because she's released so few albums and made such a big impact. Because when she sings, it's as if she's just decided to in that moment, and it's perfect. Her voice glides over Ben Watt beats, Cortney Tidwell twang, Hot Chip synth, with versatility and ease. Because I can barely picture what she looks like and I'm thrilled. If there's an image she or EBTG seeks to cultivate, I don't know what it is. Her album covers are cartoons, or faces painted over, or crafty wreaths. She might be 41, she might be 24, it is immaterial. I'd invite her because she wouldn't come. She might send regrets, which I'd frame, then I'd dig a few olives out of a jar, put a Santa hat on a lamp, call it a night.
I wouldn't invite Zooey Deschanel because she'd Instagram the whole fucking thing. She'd open her eyes really wide and bring her uke and stand pigeon-toed even though she's a grown lady. Maybe I'm being unduly harsh, but the whole indie pixie warbler hook loses some credibility when you've got your own show on Fox. Plus, she has so much power in the entertainment industry and refuses to be bold, feminist, or interesting. She likes kitties. She likes party dresses. Does she like the sexualization of young girls in her industry? Does she like the state of political discourse in her country? Does she blink her eyes ever?
I don't want to snark, but gimme Tracey over Zooey. I'd pick Sade over Lea Michelle, too, or Charlotte Rampling over Cathy from the comic strip Cathy (not that you asked). This contest is built on the supposition that I am hosting a holiday gathering, which I wasn't planning on this year, but two new holiday discs might at least get the olives out. Thanks for the opportunity, OMG!
Anyway, I won the contest! After my presents arrived from the OMG people, I put the Tracey Thorn cd into heavy rotation and am saving She & Him to part with at one of those White Elephant Gift Exchange things so some other poor sap ends up with it.
I wish I could just opt out of hearing covers of the same old Christmas songs every year. Songs I used to really like are forever tainted by countless covers and too much airplay. Joni Mitchell’s River, for example, is an excellent song, but it’s like Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Everyone thinks they should take a crack at it, and they really shouldn’t. But almost all Christmas playlists are limited by dint of the fact that there just aren’t enough songs to go around. Let’s change that.
Dream: A new batch of Christmas songs.
Goal: Achievable. Christmas music is traditionally Christian in nature, of course. Hymns became carols became standards and so on. But many people don’t celebrate Christmas and so wrote more secular, less Christ-y holiday hits. White Christmas, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Sleigh Ride, Jingle Bell Rock, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and on and on, were all written by Jewish people. I’m all for it.
It really bothers me when holiday celebrations aren’t inclusive, and it chaps my ass when people complain that work Christmas parties and school Christmas concerts take the Christ out of Christmas. Of course they do because not everyone shares the same beliefs that you do and school and work should be accepting of other cultures and beliefs. I remember one poor girl in elementary school who couldn’t perform in our school’s Christmas concert because her parents forbade it due to the overly-Christian content (we were not a Christian school, but probably sang Silent Night or something). So while we rehearsed and made ornaments, she was stuck making a “Winter Doll”, whatever the hell that is.
Anyway, a few generations ago, we came up with these inoffensive, not especially religious “Christmas” songs that were inclusive, peppy, and while not overtly Christmassy, had a definite holiday theme. Let’s make more of those and expand the playlists of malls around the country.
Plan: Write a bunch of new holiday songs. I’m not a songwriter, but I’m sure I can least think of some titles that will warm some cockles this Yuletide season. They are:
- Consensual Holiday For Two (this would replace the sinister and vaguely-rapey Baby, It’s Cold Outside with lyrics like “I really can’t stay/That’s no problem for me/I’ve got to go away/I respect your autonomy.”)
- Pleasant Night (a song that, rather than describing the birth of Christ, recounts an enjoyable stay at a Comfort Inn)
- You’re Getting A Gift Card
- Ho Ho Ho Dad’s Drunk
- Why U Buy Me Extra-Large (How Fat U Think I Am)
- Christmas Airplane (“Christmas Airplane/I’m taking you home/Christmas Airplane/Don’t lose my bags/Christmas Airplane/I’ll fart in you until we laaand.”)
- Rudolph, The Gay Guy Next Door
- Turkey Turkey Turkey! (The Turkey Song)
- Wrapping is Hard (Gift-Bagging is Easy)
- Grandma Got Run Over By An Amazon Drone
- Parents’ Internet (“I can’t dial-up the spirit of the season/Your malfunctioning PC is the reason/I appreciate you hosting and letting me stay here/But accessing my email shouldn’t take half a year")
- Let’s Decorate Drunk Dad
- Who Took My Terry’s Chocolate Orange? I’ll Kill You
- Cautious Christmas (War Is Inevitable)
- Fatter Every Year
I’m not anti-Christmas and I’m certainly in the spirit of the season, especially as my time with family draws ever closer. But the ring-ting-tingling just burrows in my brain from the time I clock into work until January 2nd, 2014. Maybe, instead of filling our gift-buying, present-wrapping, debt-mounting brains with contrived cheer, bustling shops ought to turn the music off this holiday season. Give customers a moment of blessed silence to reflect on what they truly value this time of year, and whether their time wouldn’t be better spent at home, with family. Maybe if we had the silence and space to contemplate what Christmas really means to us, we’d appreciate it more. If I’m on your list this year, you really don’t need to get me anything except maybe a little time with you. Catching up with friends and family old and new is how I know it’s Christmas time at all.