"From now on, we'll have to muddle through somehow/So have yourself a Merry Little Christmas now."
December 15, 2007 9:12 PM   Subscribe

"Emotionally ambivalent" Christmas Songs?

An Entertainment Weekly article last year about the song "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" said:

"'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas' manages to be happy and sad at the same time, hopeful but full of melancholy, as all the best Christmas songs are,' says Bette Midler, who sings it on her new CD, Cool Yule. And the song's fascinatingly tangled history has left it with several very different sets of lyrics, from the near-suicidal to the downright ebullient. There's even a recent 'sacred' rewrite, 'Have Yourself a Blessed Little Christmas.' Which one you prefer may be the truest Rorschach test of your yuletide temperament."

So, in addition to "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas", I'd like to know which other Christmas songs strike that balance between happy and sad, hopeful but melancholic for you?
posted by Jaybo to Media & Arts (40 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Here's the Entertainment Weekly article and the requisite Wikipedia link.
posted by Jaybo at 9:14 PM on December 15, 2007


I just wrote a long MetaChat post about "Merry Little Christmas," and you might want to check it out and read the links to see how much more depressing the original original lyrics were (not Judy Garland's).

Other songs like that:
River, by Joni Mitchell
Christmas in Prison, by John Prine
Merry Christmas FRom the Family, by Robert Earl Keen
posted by Miko at 9:22 PM on December 15, 2007


"Fairytale of New York" by the Pogues is both about love and pain. It is one of my most favorite songs of all time so perhaps I am biased.
posted by caddis at 9:39 PM on December 15, 2007 [2 favorites]


Christmas Downer, by Departure Lounge.
posted by Jairus at 9:39 PM on December 15, 2007


Paul Kelly's How to Make Gravy.
posted by zamboni at 9:40 PM on December 15, 2007


Of course, "White Christmas", while ostensibly about all the happy bits, has a strong subtext of currently not being able to experience all the happy bits.
posted by dhartung at 9:44 PM on December 15, 2007


Also "I'll Be Home for Christmas," -- the entire song is a setup for the kicker line, "...if only in my dreams."

Came out in 1943, when one of every six Americans was somehow affiliated with a military service and everyone either knew someone overseas, or was overseas.
posted by Miko at 9:46 PM on December 15, 2007


Band aid - Do They Know It's Christmas ?
posted by pinksoftsoap at 9:55 PM on December 15, 2007


It's not technically a Christmas song, but since it's in a Christmas special and a John Denver Christmas album, "When the River Meets the Sea."
posted by Hot Like Your 12V Wire at 9:59 PM on December 15, 2007


I once participated in a long internet discussion about whether or not "Baby, It's Cold Outside" is essentially a date rape song about a guy coercing a woman into staying when she doesn't want to, or a song about an empowered woman tossing aside society's expectations and following her desire. Ever since then, I've been ambivalent at best about the song.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:04 PM on December 15, 2007


What about Imogen Heap's Just for Now"? I think the deal with it was that it was written for The O.C. holiday album, but then they refused to include it because it was too much of a downer.

"Fairytale of New York" really is one of the best songs ever.
posted by craichead at 10:06 PM on December 15, 2007


'I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day', It was written by a guy who'd just lost his sons in the American Civil War, and while he's singing about the prevalence of right and peace, it sounds like he’s talking himself into the idea.
posted by Phalene at 10:23 PM on December 15, 2007


Darlene Love - All Alone on Christmas
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:43 PM on December 15, 2007


damn, that is the E Street band basically
posted by caddis at 11:01 PM on December 15, 2007


Tom Waits' "Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis" would probably fit the bill.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 11:49 PM on December 15, 2007


"Merry Christmas Darling" by the Carpenters definitely strikes a happy/sad, hopeful/melancholic cord for me. As does the rather cheeseball Dan Fogelburg song, "Another Old Lang Sign." Both of those are more about relationships than Christmas, though.

This is unrelated, but Gingerbeer, I never understood why "Baby It's Cold Outside" is considered a Christmas song, except that I only ever hear it around Christmas time. Is Christmas ever mentioned in any way at all in that song?
posted by Squee at 12:08 AM on December 16, 2007


Sufjan Stevens does more than a few. My favorite:

That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!
Going outside
Shoveling snow in the driveway, driveway
Taking our shoes
Riding a sled down the hillside, hillside
Can you say what you want?
Can you say what you want to be?
Can you be what you want?
Can you be what you want?

Our father yells
Throwing gifts in the wood stove, wood stove
My sister runs away
Taking her books to the schoolyard, schoolyard
In time the snow will rise
In time the snow will rise
In time the Lord will rise
In time the Lord will rise

Silent night
Holy night
Silent night
Nothing feels right
Other honorable mentions:
Sister Winter
Jupiter Winter
Star of Wonder
posted by cior at 12:19 AM on December 16, 2007


Hard Candy Christmas, sung by Dolly Parton, as here. (I'm not totally down with this video pairing, just linking for the song.)
posted by NikitaNikita at 12:27 AM on December 16, 2007


This is unrelated, but Gingerbeer, I never understood why "Baby It's Cold Outside" is considered a Christmas song, except that I only ever hear it around Christmas time. Is Christmas ever mentioned in any way at all in that song?

I think it's just one of those "seasonal songs," same as "Let It Snow," "Winter Wonderland," "Sleigh Ride," heck, even "Jingle Bells." I don't think any of those mention anything about Christmas or the holidays either.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 1:07 AM on December 16, 2007


A farcical version of what you're talking about, but Weird Al's Christmas at Ground Zero.
posted by jozxyqk at 4:11 AM on December 16, 2007


The Pretenders, 2000 Miles
posted by maryh at 4:12 AM on December 16, 2007


The Nields, Christmas Carol
posted by shirobara at 5:58 AM on December 16, 2007


Merry Christmas from Chiron Beta Prime.
posted by ursus_comiter at 6:18 AM on December 16, 2007


Seconding "...from the Family", "Fairytale", and "Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis". Neko Case does a killer version of the last one.

Townes Van Zandt's "Snowin on Raton" only mentions snow, but has that end-of-year feel.

Steve Earle's "Christmastime in Washington" is flat-out political.
posted by notsnot at 6:53 AM on December 16, 2007


Christmas Wrapping by the Waitresses.
posted by ibmcginty at 7:53 AM on December 16, 2007


Emerson, Lake & Palmer - I Believe in Father Christmas (Youtube fan video)

Hallelujah Noel be it Heaven or Hell
The Christmas you get you deserve

posted by hangashore at 8:57 AM on December 16, 2007


heh, caddis, I thought you meant that sounded like the E Street Band. But I just watched it, and no, it actually IS the E Street band (and friends). Cool.
posted by Miko at 10:11 AM on December 16, 2007


In addition to a cover of "Daddy, Don't Get Drunk (this Christmas)", the Bruce Robison/Kelly Willis cd Happy Holidays includes a funny original Robison song, "Oklahoma Christmas" that begins with him singing about feeling out of place the first time he spent Christmas with her (religious) family, and then he takes the Lord's name in vain several times ... in general, it's a nice bittersweet holiday album, that includes covers of several other songs already mentioned.

Joni Mitchell's River (my favorite sad Christmas song) has been covered by a lot of folks - everyone from Aimee Mann to Sister Hazel, and dozens of folks in between.
posted by julen at 10:22 AM on December 16, 2007


First, to second a couple tracks recommended above:
-"I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day" has always captured this emotional tension to my mind. Pedro the Lion does a great, measured, thoughtful version.
-"Fairytale of New York" looks both forward and backward in time, reflects on good times and bad, and it's sung by a man spending Christmas Eve in the drunk tank. Sold.

on the hopeful front, Ron Sexsmith - Maybe This Christmas comes to mind. It's a quiet indie-rockish track that has the hopeful "maybe this year" kinda lyrics, but with a delivery that feels a bit reserved.

Harvey Danger - Sometimes You Have to Work On Christmas
...an alt-rock song about going in to work at an art-house movie theater on Christmas day, with nothing else to do, no place to go. Ambivalent, at best, in tone.

The Be Good Tanyas - Rudy
...a pretty little song with harmonized female vocals, talking about Rudy, the red-nosed homeless wino. One of my favorites.

John McCutcheon - Christmas In the Trenches
...a powerfully written and performed little folk song based on a real Christmas ceasefire in the the trenches around Ypres in 1914 -- British and German troops left their foxholes and celebrated, exchanged gifts, etc. (see: wiki.) You want the best mixed with the worst, this is it. A Christmas spent in the spirit of brotherhood with the knowledge that tomorrow you're going back to trying to kill each other.
posted by theoddball at 11:26 AM on December 16, 2007


Oh, and if you're looking for something a little more meditative / rooted in the religious aspects of Christmas, check out Dave Matthews' "Christmas Song." (Not the same as "chestnuts roasting...") It's, in a sense, a retelling of the life of Christ from the Gospels, which has its own highs and lows, hopes and pains. It's not preachy, it's not pushy, but it's extremely engaging.

I'm not a huge DMB fan in general, but he wrote a helluva song here. There's a gorgeous acoustic version (2 guitars + vocal) off the album "Live at Luther College" and available on assorted Christmas compilations.
posted by theoddball at 11:32 AM on December 16, 2007


Perhaps December Will Be Magic Again by Kate Bush? This recording I've linked to is sort of awful, but it works. Anyway, this song sounds so weird and magical, I think, and it makes me think of how magical Christmastime was when I was little. It seems I cannot recapture that feeling, no matter how hard I try, which makes me melancholy. But anyway, as the title implies, the song is hopeful in that it promises that perhaps the magic will return.
posted by waywardgirl at 11:33 AM on December 16, 2007


I once participated in a long internet discussion about whether or not "Baby, It's Cold Outside" is essentially a date rape song...

I have the same issue with this song. Either she's saying "no" and he's ignoring it, or she's saying "no" when she really means "yes." Either scenario bugs me.
posted by Nathanial Hörnblowér at 11:45 AM on December 16, 2007


"Christmas Time is Here," from the Charlie Brown Christmas special (performed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio) always fits the emotionally ambivalent bill for me. The words are pretty simple, but the music is so interesting and contemplative, and anything associated with Charlie Brown always has a note of melancholy in it.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 11:54 AM on December 16, 2007


There's always The Christmas Shoes.
posted by Nathanial Hörnblowér at 11:55 AM on December 16, 2007


Lori Carson's "Christmas".
posted by Guy Smiley at 10:35 PM on December 16, 2007


"Christmas Morning" by Louden Wainwright III
posted by mikepop at 8:19 AM on December 17, 2007


Louden Loudon
posted by mikepop at 8:19 AM on December 17, 2007


John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." Expresses hope that there can be an end to war, while also being quite condemnatory of the fact that we haven't already accomplished that.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:15 AM on December 17, 2007


Ice by Shelleyan Orphan
posted by mikepop at 6:03 PM on December 17, 2007


Here's a (self) link for Ice
posted by mikepop at 9:07 PM on December 17, 2007


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