Modern Christmas has become a confusing mashup of pagan tradition and hedonistic consumerism masquerading as a Christian festival*, so it should come as no surprise that some Christmas music is, at best, “problematical”.
With your indulgence I hereby make the case that, if you want your children to grow up well-adjusted, and without any strange ideas about free will, authority, consent or basic geography, then you won’t let them listen to any Christmas music. At all. Ever.
Exhibit A) Once in Royal David’s City
Four “lowly”s in six verses are indicative of the Victorian obsession with class, but verse three is where it really goes awry:
And through all His wondrous childhood
He would honour and obey,
Love and watch the lowly mother
In whose gentle arms He lay.
Christian children all should be
Mild, obedient, good as He.
Leaving aside the fact that it wasn’t mild obedience that got Jesus tortured and publicly executed by the political elite, let’s take a moment to consider the legacy of centuries of encouraging children to unthinkingly acquiesce to authority within the institution of the Church.
Exhibit B) Baby it’s cold outside
When you absolutely positively have to normalise rape culture in a specifically yuletide fashion, accept no substitute. This song makes “Blurred Lines” look like a thoughtful paean to consent in healthy relationships.
If you get as far as the line “Say what’s in this drink?” and still think he’s just being hospitable, you belong to the Bill Cosby school of seduction technique and you are excused from DJing the Christmas party.
Exhibit C) I Saw Three Ships
Bethlehem is 2,500ft above sea level and 20 miles from any large body of water. You didn’t see three ships. You’re up a mountain. This is the kind of bullshit whitewashing that occurs when Europeans (from the similarly landlocked county of Derbyshire, in this instance) appropriate a Middle-Eastern religion and twist its symbols and mythology in support of an authoritarian system of imperialist government with little regard for basic geography.
Exhibit D) Santa Baby
In religious Christmas music, you get to dismiss all the bits you don’t like by saying “it’s allegorical”. In secular music, there’s less flexibility to sidestep the appalling implications of what is being said.
Exhibit E) Little Donkey
This school nativity staple is a disaster of woolly logic that would be a triumph of style over substance if it weren’t also a shitty song about a donkey. In verse one, we’re on a road and Bethlehem’s in sight. Why, then, are we later following a star? This is like when you’re too busy looking at the GPS to notice you just drove past the inn. If Joseph had just stopped and asked for directions instead of relying on celestial navigation, they might have arrived in time to get a room. Also, if there’s a star, why are the “wise” men “waiting for a sign to bring them here”? Maybe they’re still trying to sail their ships up a mountain?
If they weren’t so busy being mild and obedient, even the kids would point out this is utter bullshit.
Exhibit F) Santa Claus is Coming to Town
If you’re ever wondering how Christmas tipped over the edge from “bastardised religious festival” into “pagan cult of consumer electronics” then look no further than this song about the vengeful Catholic Santa of the Old Testament, embodied with powers of omnipresence (“he sees you when you’re sleeping”), omniscience (“he knows if you’ve been bad or good”) and a sinister hint at omnipotence (“so be good for goodness sake”).
In this song, the fourth member of the Trinity is a third-Century Turkish bishop who sneaks into your house to punish or reward children so impatient to experience supernatural judgement that eternal damnation is just too damn far off. Of all the bullshit with which we coerce our children, this is the absolute worst.
Exhibit G) God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
Top marks to this carol’s anonymous 16th century authors for getting Satan into the first verse of an otherwise jolly song about rest, merriment, comfort, joy, and a winged serpent who tricks humans into doing wrong so he can torture them in perpetuity.
Exhibit H) It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
A pair of hop-along boots and a pistol that shoots
Is the wish of Barney and Ben,
Dolls that will talk and will go for a walk
Is the hope of Janice and Jen,
Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again.
Repeat after me: they’re not stereotypes. They’re examples. Extremely stereotypical examples.
Exhibit I) Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
Rudolph looks different so he is subjected to bullying in the workplace until he redeems himself by undertaking additional work in a hazardous environment. If you’re not reading this normalisation of out-group hostility as an allegory for white supremacy, you’re part of the problem.
Exhibit J) Away in a Manger
You don’t have to be a hardline disciple of attachment parenting to realise that a feeding trough in a stable filled with semi-domesticated animals is not a place to put a newborn baby, especially in the middle of winter. This is a time for bonding, skin-to-skin contact, and the safe regulation of body temperature. The baby-safety-industrial-complex has worked hard to sell us the idea that babies need cribs, but if there was ever a time for co-sleeping, it’s when you’re sharing your hotel room with livestock.