In the grocery store last weekend I heard “Santa Baby,” which is a song about a woman who wants to have sex with Santa Claus. That’s the subtext. The actual text is about how she wants Santa to bring her several luxury products, including but not limited to a yacht and the deed to a platinum mine.
It came on while I was in the peanut butter aisle with a couple who were about 19 years old. They were buying Skippy and hot dog buns. As soon as “Santa Baby” hit the sound system, the woman began doing a coquettish dance. Eventually she was lip synching.
Her boyfriend put his hands on his stomach to indicate jolliness/surprise that his career as a toy distributor was finally going to get him laid. Everyone had a great time except for me. I had to get out of there, because I am a Scrooge, or possibly a Grinch—one of those heartless monsters you will know by his hatred of Christmas songs.
Except for “All I Want For Christmas Is You”—I love that one. Despite the fact that all I want for Christmas is to be left alone, Mariah Carey’s bell-enhanced Ronettes knockoff gets me every time. I have been known to sing it in multiple retail establishments, even though I don’t really know the words. I like the 1994 original from her album Merry Christmas, and I like the 2010 version from Merry Christmas II You, “All I Want For Christmas Is You (Extra Festive).” I recognize that this makes me a bad person.
I am not so steeped in iniquity that I accept “Jingle Bells,” though. “Jingle Bells” is the sound of culture giving up. The music that comes on in malls and big box stores this time of year doesn’t just coalesce out of nowhere. Someone has to choose it, and whoever chooses “Jingle Bells” is a sociopath.
Playing “Jingle Bells” in the grocery store is like singing “Happy Birthday” at karaoke. It refuses to admit that other people have interiority. You control the sound system, and the next three minutes are going to enact your perverse vision of autarchy. “Jingle Bells” is to the grocery store as “Let them eat cake” is to France.
Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmas Time” is “Jingle Bells” played backwards. I don’t know how this Mandarin sound collage became a retail staple, with its k-hole organ and inverted phrasing. It gets to the chorus in exactly 30 seconds, and the chorus is “simply having a wonderful Christmas time.” That’s it. There are two components: it’s Christmas, and you are happy. The “simply” is in there to tell you to shut up.
That’s why I don’t like Christmas music. It invites us to re-enlist in a lie. It’s the same songs we heard last year, and we do not particularly like them. No one puts “Silver Bells” on her road trip mix. But we tolerate the songs because it is Christmas, and if we cannot tolerate them we know we are awful, because it means we cannot tolerate others’ happiness. And as the aforementioned A Christmas Carol and Grinch Who Stole Christmas remind us, tolerating others’ happiness is what Christmas is all about.
Herod was the first guy to really blow it. Chevy Chase has the same meltdown on a different scale in Christmas Vacation, as does Bruce Willis in Die Hard. All of those people set out to make one Christmas really special, and it wound up backfiring on them in bitterly ironic ways. The lesson is clear: Make this Christmas like last Christmas, or who knows what might happen.
Last Christmas sucked. John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John released an album called This Christmas, a title that made more sense at the time. I played the Vandals’ “Christmas Time for My Penis” and my mom got disappointed in me and cried. In that moment, the function of “Frosty the Snowman” became clear to me. It triggers a kind of flashback in your brain, so that this Christmas and all others blend into an eventless, vaguely festive haze.
Eastern religions construct death in much the same way. They have nirvana; we have “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Oblivion is seductive, but I am not ready to be dead yet. If we’re going to have Christmas again this year, I would like stuff to keep happening.
That’s why my new favorite Christmas song is “No-Win Xmas” by locals VTO. It’s got the same fun bells as “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” but it expresses disdain for “you” and your friends. It points out what time of year it is like “Wonderful Christmas Time,” but it does not demand that I feel wonderful. It only asks permission to drink a beer.
Best of all, it is new. When I hear “No-Win Xmas,” I do not remember feeling alienated hearing it in the grocery store last year. It does not make me feel guilty for associating that alienation with Christmas, nor does it lead me to suspect that I have become disconnected from society in sad and dangerous ways. It’s just fun. It promises that this year might be different after all, and that’s all I really want for Christmas. I can take or leave you.