Posted by: coloradokiwi | December 20, 2007

The dark side of Xmas songs

Although for the most part the songs that echo through every shopping plaza and radio station this time of year are quaint, clap-happy renderings of the holidays, or joyously serene odes to Jesus’ birth, there are discreet moments in a number of songs that have over the years struck me as somewhat troubling. By “troubling,” of course I mean that certain lyrics convey meanings that, if you listen carefully, are deep, dark, or hilariously countermanding of the purported thrust of the song you think you know. To whit:

To my mind the most obvious example is in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The part that’s always bothered me, even when I was little, was in the description of Rudolph’s torment by his fellow reindeer because of his freaky nose, which is a note touched on somewhat by the famous claymation special that airs every year: that Santa himself is complicit in Rudolph’s vilification. The proof of this, to my mind, is in the simple verse:

…Then one foggy Christmas Eve
Santa came to say:…

There is no mention of Rudolph’s being discovered like all of a sudden. Santa came directly to Rudolph in reaction to the fog, the implication being that Santa was apprised of Rudolph’s condition beforehand. Therefore it seems very likely that Santa also knew that Rudolph was being kept out of reindeer games. So jolly ol’ Saint Nick, whom we are lead to believe is supposed to uphold “the spirit of Christmas” at all times, was well aware of the inhumane treatment Rudolph received and at the very least did not intervene, and at worst abetted Rudolph’s poor treatment (this certainly is the case in the claymation classic). While Santa is said to be a kindly elf, he is in fact a deeply conservative old duffer who does not abide “deviance.” Suddenly I am left to wonder whether he skips the houses of gay kids and similarly ostracized sprats—rather than merely spreading Christmas cheer, he is in fact a tool through which normative modes of the repressive elements of mainstream (Christian) culture are enforced. And he visits every house, and knows about everything we do, so we should discipline ourselves to act in accordance with these norms. Fucking hell, he’s Big Brother! Or I guess more accurately, he’s the guard manning the tower of the Panopticon. I’m kind of surprised Michel Foucault didn’t write about Santa.

There are other carols that upon further analysis contain similarly disconcerting elements. For example, take the marvelous standard Baby It’s Cold Outside. In this quaint little number, a woman is supposed to be leaving a man’s home, but he is trying to convince her to stay (and she seems a bit reluctant to leave), revolves around it being too cold and nasty outside for her to go, despite her many excuses (what the neighbors will think, what her parents will think, how she views her own womanly honor, etc.). There is one part of the exchange that should ring alarm bells, however (her lines first, his in parenthesis):

…So really I’d better scurry

(Beautiful please don’t hurry)

Well maybe just a half a drink more

(Put some records on while I pour)

The neighbors might think

(But baby it’s bad out there)

Say…what’s in this drink?

Ah, the good old days when “date rape” was an unknown term, and slipping girls a mickey was kind of a cute thing to do. But perhaps he’s just innocently made her drink a little strong, eh? Um, no. Just a few lines later (bold indicates both singing):

I oughta say no, no, no

(Mind if I move in closer?)

At least I’m gonna say that I tried

(What’s the sense in hurting my pride?)

I really can’t stay

(Baby don’t hold out)

Ah but it’s cold outside!

So…I don’t know about you, but this strikes me as precisely the sort of thing they warn people about in those Take Back the Night seminars. So, he puts something in her drink, and as her defenses begin to crumble, he sidles up next to her and strongly hints that she owes him (and his masculine pride) a little sum-sum. This ends with an acknowledgment from both parties that it’s cold outside — meaning she is pretty much trapped inside with him. Yeah, it’s a fun little exchange: right up to the point when her first piece of clothing is ripped or that button pops, and that’s the end of her talking, anyway.

Okay, to be fair this all happens halfway through the song (albeit immediately before a solo bridge), so her later objections indicate that he hasn’t made good — yet. But later on it’s clear she’s still in a bit of danger, and he’s moved from hinting to outright guilting her:

You’ve really been grand

(I thrill when you touch my hand)

But don’t you see

(How can you do this thing to me?)

Yeah, I here ya, bro: blue balls. Man, that sucks. So did you score this chick or not?

I really can’t stay

(Get over that old out)

But baby it’s cold outside!

[End of song.]

Broheim! You totally hit that!

Yep, after he commandingly tells her to “get over” her old excuses. And that’s that, boys and girls. Betcha the dirty cad doesn’t even wear a condom.

So you see, Christmas time is not all innocence, sweetness and cheer. I’m sure if we looked harder there would be even more examples we could point to. (The song Santa Baby, after all is even racier than you might think: we’re not talking about him hurrying down a real chimney in exchange for giving her all the gifts she asks for, are we? Man, what a greedy whore.) In a way I find it somewhat charming that the darker aspects of society are not ignored by delightful holiday songs, and yet on the other hand isn’t it horrifying that such things can be packaged in such light, bright, cheerful songs?

So, Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and be sure to reflect on both the highs and lows of this thing called life. Just keep in mind Santa’s omnisicient, malevolent gaze, and the certainty that someone, somewhere, is having their personhood violated due in part to inclement weather.



  1. I’m just not sure that Jesus would approve of this post…

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