I have a theory about Christmas songs. Well, two. The first is that for 50 weeks of the year you see them for what they are - big old slices of cheesy sentimentality.
The second is that when they reappear in mid December, the one that makes you feel the most Christmassy is the one that most meets your emotional need at this time of year.
Let’s test this out. Here are eight Christmas songs that have all done it for me at one time or another. Have a read through and decide which one does it for you.
Then at the end I’ll say what deeper need I think each song represents and you can see what you think.
No reading ahead or I’ll tell Santa.
Here we go:
1. Merry Christmas Everybody - Slade
Or to use the correct title, “IT’S CHRIIIIIISTMAAAAS!”. Noddy Holder with the most famous shout-out in pop history. And don’t forget the happy-sad optimism of “Look to the future now / It’s only just begun”. Hidden depths, Slade.
2. Happy Xmas (War is Over) - John & Yoko / Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir
John Lennon always dreamt of making a classic Christmas song. He achieved it in spades here, but he also made it his plea for world peace. He knew what he was doing. "Now I understand what you have to do: put your political message across with a little honey." Ever the subversive, John.
3. Walking in the Air - Aled Jones
Of course, I mean listening to this whilst watching ‘The Snowman’, as the two of them fly across the snow-covered rooftops, around the seaside pier, past the cruise liner out at sea, up the river, over the mountain tops, above the blue whale, all the way to wherever the Snowman is taking the boy.
4. Driving Home for Christmas - Chris Rea
Or simply driving home on Christmas Eve. “Top to toe in tail-lights”, a stream of people with one thing in common, they’re all going home. “I take a look at the driver next to me / He’s just the same / Just the same”.
5. I Believe in Father Christmas - Greg Lake
Sad news that Greg Lake is no longer with us, on top of Keith Emerson’s death earlier in the year. But he’s left us with this tale of lost innocence and childhood belief. He always said it wasn’t an anti-religious song but an attack on the commercialization of Christmas. Peter Sinfield, the lyricist, begged to differ, calling it “a picture-postcard Christmas with morbid edges”.
6. Fairytale of New York - The Pogues & Kirsty McColl
“You’re an old slut on junk” slurs Shane. “You scumbag / You maggot / You cheap lousy faggot / Happy Christmas you arse / I pray God it’s our last” snaps back Kirsty. But they still love each other, don’t they? “Can’t make it all alone / I’ve built my dreams around you.” And the boys of the NYPD choir keep on singing ‘Galway Bay’. Must be the Irishness in all of us.
7. Do You Want to Build a Snowman? - Kristen Bell, Katie Lopez and Agatha Lee Monn
What do you mean it’s not a Christmas song? ‘Frozen’ is definitely a Christmas movie.
This is the bit when Anna spends her whole childhood trying to tempt Elsa out of her room, only to be told to go away. Finally there’s tragedy as their parents die in a raging storm at sea. After the funeral, Anna has one final go, sitting with her back to Elsa’s door. “We only have each other / It’s just you and me / What are we going to do? / Do you want to build a snowman?” The music leaves the perfect gap for Elsa to sing back “Yes I do”. But there’s no reply. The camera pans from Anna through to show Elsa sitting against the other side of the door. Then it fades to black. Disney perfection.
8. The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) - Nat King Cole
But of course it doesn’t all have to be a big drama. There’ll always be Nat. “And so I’m offering this simple phrase / For kids from one to ninety-two / Although it’s been said many times, many ways / Merry Christmas to you.”
So which song is the one for you? Which makes you feel the most Christmassy?
Made you mind up?
Here’s what I think is the deeper need behind each song. See if there’s any truth in it for you. There’s a link so you can see if it works.
Merry Christmas Everybody (http://bit.ly/2hNSxkS): EMPOWERMENT - feeling positive and optimistic, forward-looking but tinged with nostalgia
Happy Xmas (War is Over) (http://bit.ly/2gLuPIr): INDEPENDENCE - feeling strong-willed, rebellious, prepared to be controversial and go your own way
Walking in the Air (http://bit.ly/2htQ828): FREEDOM - feeling uninhibited, carefree, a sense of release
Driving Home for Christmas (http://bit.ly/2hFCeuA): CONNECTION - with like-minded people, in a place where you belong
I Believe in Father Christmas (http://bit.ly/2hw8qNI): DISCERNMENT - feeling knowledgeable, smart, inclined to be sceptical
Fairytale of New York (http://bit.ly/2hO2leL): BONDING - joined by a shared emotion, a sense of closeness and unity
Do You Want to Build a Snowman? (http://bit.ly/2hwSfju): CONTROL (if you’re Elsa), FUN (if you’re Anna)
The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) (http://bit.ly/2hwTDm8): COMFORT - feeling on familiar ground, reassured, safe
There you are, a Christmassy Need Map.
And if you let me know which song you chose, we can even quantify the segmentation.
Have a very happy Christmas and see you in the New Year.