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Dec 17 2013

10 Christmas Carols Even An Atheist Could Love

I’m doing a full court press in December to finish my new book, “Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why.” Deadline for going to the typesetter is January 2. So for most of December, I’ll be posting retreads traditional holiday posts, as well as a few cat pictures. Enjoy! This piece was originally published on AlterNet in 2010.

Christmascarols What do you do if you’re an atheist who likes Christmas carols?

It’s widely assumed that atheists, by definition, hate Christmas. And it’s an assumption I’m baffled by. I like Christmas. Lots of atheists I know like Christmas. Heck, even Richard Dawkins likes Christmas. Plenty of atheists recognize the need for rituals that strengthen social bonds and mark the passing of the seasons. Especially when the season in question is dark and wet and freezing cold. Add in a culturally- sanctioned excuse to spend a month of Saturdays eating, drinking, flirting, and showing off our most festive shoes, and we’re totally there. And we find our own ways to adapt/ create/ subvert the holiday traditions to our own godless ends.

Sure, most of us would like for our governments to not be sponsoring religious displays at the holidays. Or any other time. What with the whole “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” thing. And some of us do rather resent the cultural hegemony of one particular religious tradition being crammed down everybody’s throat, in a grotesque, mutant mating of homogenized consumerism and saccharine piety. But it’s not like all atheists are Grinchy McScrooges. Many of us are very fond of Christmas. Some atheists even like Christmas carols. I’m one of them.

It is, however, definitely the case that, since I’ve become an atheist activist, my pleasure in many Christmas carols has been somewhat diminished. It’s harder for me to sing out lustily about angels and magic stars and the miracle of the virgin birth, without rolling my eyes just a little. And I do notice the more screwed-up content of many Christmas songs more than I used to: the guilty self-loathing, the fixation on the blood sacrifice, the not- so- subtle anti-Semitism. I’m content to sing most of these songs anyway (except “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” which always makes me cringe). But for some time now, I’ve been on the lookout for Christmas songs that I can sing entirely happily, without getting into annoying theological debates in my head.

So, with the help of my Facebook friends, I’ve compiled a list of Christmas songs that atheists can love unreservedly.

The rules:

Vierge_au_Chapelet_1 Songs cannot have any mention of God, Jesus, angels, saints, or miracles. Not even in Latin. This is the key, the raison d’etre of this whole silly game. I’m not going to start making exceptions just so I can sneak in the “Boar’s Head Carol.” And yes, this rules out “Good King Wenceslas.” Hey, I like it too, it’s pretty and has a nice (if somewhat politically complicated) message about how rich kings should help poor people. But come on, people. It’s about a Christian saint with magical powers. No can do. (I will, however, grant a “saints with magical powers” exemption to Santa.)

Gay_Mens_Chorus_of_Washington_DC Songs must be reasonably well-known. Yes, this rules out some truly excellent stuff. Many of my favorite Christmas songs, atheist or otherwise, are on the obscure side: from the grisly, gothy, paganesque “Corpus Christi Carol” (I do love me some gruesome Christmas songs), to the simultaneously haunting and peppy “Patapan,” to Tim Minchin’s funny, touching, pointedly godless “White Wine in the Sun.” But it’s no fun singing Christmas songs by yourself. For a song to make my list, a reasonable number of people at your holiday party should be able to sing it… or at least chime in on the first verse before trailing off into awkward pauses and “La la la”s.

Weird al No song parodies. It hurts like major surgery for me to make this rule. Some of my very favorite Christmas songs of all time are song parodies: my friend Tim’s hilariously on-target Christmas-themed parody of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Christmas Rhapsody”; the entire “Very Scary Solstice” songbook from the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society; every Mad Magazine Christmas carol parody ever written. Song parodies are an excellent way to redeem a pretty Christmas tune from cringe-inducing lyrics, and many are just excellent songs on their own. But the idea here is that atheists can have a completely heartfelt, non-snarky love for Christmas music. So to make it onto my list, songs must be entirely sincere. (I will, however, give bonus points to classic Christmas songs that have spawned good parodies.)

Thumbs up Songs have to be good songs. A subjective judgment, I realize. And for the purposes of this game, one that is to be made entirely by me. Deal with it. I don’t care how secular it is: “Suzy Snowflake” is not making it onto my freaking Christmas song list.

Bonus points: A song gets bonus points for not mentioning the word “Christmas.” It’s okay if it does — I don’t think the word has to mean “Christ’s Mass,” any more than “goodbye” has to mean “God be with you” or “Thursday” has to mean “Thor’s day.” But songs that have become widely accepted Christmas carols without even mentioning the concept get bonus points: for chutzpah, if nothing else.

And songs get bonus points for being written more than 100 years ago. I’m not a reflexive hater of modern Christmas songs; in fact, some of them I quite like. But some of the best stuff about Christmas music is the old, old, tunes: the soaring, haunting melodies and harmonies that resonate back through the centuries. If a song can do that and still not mention the baby Jesus, I’m sold.

So with these rules in mind, here are my Top Ten Christmas Carols Even An Atheist Could Love.

White-Christmas 10: White Christmas. This is a funny one. I don’t even particularly like this song: it’s kind of drippy, and it lends itself far too well to unctuous lounge singers. But come on, people. It was written by a freaking agnostic. A Jewish agnostic at that. And it’s become one of the most classic, wildly popular entries in the Christmas music canon. How can you not love an entirely secular Christmas classic written by a Jewish agnostic?

Jingle_Bells 9: Jingle Bells. A bit overplayed, I’ll grant you. But it’s cheery, and it’s old, and it’s fun to sing. The second through fourth verses (you know, the ones nobody sings or has even heard of) are all about courting girls, racing horses, and getting into accidents, so that’s entertaining. And the thing doesn’t mention the word “Christmas” once. Heck, it wasn’t even written as a Christmas song; it was written as a Thanksgiving song. You can happily teach it to your kids without worrying that you’re indoctrinating them into a death cult. Plus it’s spawned a burgeoning cottage industry of children’s song parodies, in the time-honored “Jingle bells, Batman smells” oeuvre. (Tangent: Do kids still sing that even though “Batman” isn’t on TV anymore?)

Sleigh ride 8: Sleigh Ride. For those who like jingling bells, but are a bit sick of “Jingle Bells” after all these years. Relentlessly cheerful. Lots of fun to sing, except for the weirdly tuneless bridge about Farmer Gray’s birthday party…. but then you get back into the sleigh bells jingling, ring- ting- tingling too, and you’re back in business. And no God, or Jesus, or even Christmas. Just snow, and singing, and pumpkin pie, and friends calling “Yoo hoo!” A trifle saccharine, I’ll grant you — a bit too nostalgic for a Norman Rockwell America that never really existed — but still good, clean, secular fun.

Silver bells 7: Silver Bells. I’m sure I’m going to get roundly hated on for this one. Lots of people truly loathe modern Christmas songs, especially the ones in the drippy lounge- singer category. (See “White Christmas” above.) But I have a genuine soft spot for this one, for a very specific reason: It’s one of the few Christmas songs that celebrates the urban Christmas. Most Christmas songs sing the bucolic joys of sleigh rides and forests and holly and whatnot… joys that are entirely outside of my own experience of Christmas. My own experience of Christmas is shopping and crowded streets and lavish decorations and electric light displays that could power a goat farm for a year. The very joys that “Silver Bells” is celebrating. And the tune is really pretty. Also it’s in 3/4 time, which means you can waltz to it. So thumbs-up from me. If you sing it in a peppy, up-tempo beat, you can avoid the whole lounge-singer vibe pretty easily.

We wish you a marry christmas6: We Wish You a Merry Christmas. I was going to include at least one wassailing song in this list. Wassailing songs are among the finest secular Christmas traditions, and the general concept is familiar to a lot of people, even if the specific examples of it aren’t. But alas, every single one of them either (a) is entirely obscure outside folk-nerd circles, or (b) mentions God at least once. Even if it’s just in an “And God bless you and send you a happy New Year” context. I couldn’t find even one completely secular wassailing song that’d be familiar to anyone who doesn’t go to Renaissance Faires. So I’m letting “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” stand in for the “going from door to door singing and begging for food” wassailing genre. It’s reasonably pretty, it’s fun to sing, a lot of people who don’t go to Renaissance Faires know it. And it celebrates two great Christmas traditions: pestering the neighbors, and eating yourself sick.

Let it snow 5: Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Another in the “Christmas songs that are really about the entirely secular joys of snow and winter” oeuvre. I like this one because it’s not about mucking around in the actual snow, so much as it is about staying the hell out of it. Canoodling in front of the fire where it’s warm and dry — there’s a Christmas song for me! Plus it’s about being in love at Christmas, which is a lovely theme… and one that, like the urban Christmas, is sadly under-represented. And it’s another classic Christmas song written by Jewish songwriters, which always tickles me. Thumbs up.

SantaBabyEarthaKitt 4: Santa Baby. Yeah, yeah. Everyone loves to gripe about the commercialization of Christmas. I griped about it myself, just a few paragraphs ago. But it’s hard not to love a song that revels in it so blatantly, and with such sensual. erotic joy. Cars, yachts, fur coats, platinum mines, real estates, jewelry, and cold hard cash, with the not- so- subtle implication of sexual favors being offered in return — the reason for the season! Plus it has the class to get the name of the jewelry company right. (It’s Tiffany, people, not Tiffany’s!) And the only magical being it recognizes is an increasingly secular gift-giving saint with an apparent weakness for sultry, husky- voiced cabaret singers. (And who can blame him? Faced with Eartha Kitt batting her metaphorical eyes at me, I’d be pulling out my checkbook, too.)

Carol of the bells 3: Carol of the Bells. A trifle hard to sing in parts. But it’s awfully darned pretty. No, strike that. It is stunning. It is lavishly, thrillingly beautiful. It has that quality of being both eerie and festive that’s so central to so much great Christmas music… and it has it in trumps. It is freaking old — the original Ukrainian folk tune it’s based on may even be prehistoric — and it sounds it. In the best possible way. It is richly evocative of ancient mysteries, conveying both the joy and the peace that so many Christmas carols are gassing on about. And it does it without a single mention of God or Jesus or any other mythological beings. Just a “Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas.” I’m down with that.

Winter wonderland 2: Winter Wonderland. Yes, I know. Another modern one. Hey, what do you expect? Christmas got a whole lot more secular in the last century. But I unabashedly love this song, and I don’t care who knows it. It has a lovely lilting saunter to it, a melody and rhythm that makes you physically feel like you’re taking a brisk, slightly slippery winter walk with the snow crunching under your boots. It gets bonus points for being a ubiquitous, entirely non-controversial Christmas classic that doesn’t mention the word “Christmas” even once. And it’s another Christmas love song, which always makes me happy. I get all goopy and sentimental whenever I hear the lines, “To face unafraid/The plans that we’ve made.” Sniff.

And finally, the hands-down runaway winner, the no-question-in-my-mind Best Atheist Christmas Song of All Time:

DeckTheHalls200 1: Deck the Halls. It’s totally gorgeous. It’s unrepentantly cheerful — jolly, one might even say — with just a hint of that haunting spookiness that makes for the best Christmas songs. It celebrates all the very best parts of Christmas: singing, playing music, decorating, dressing up, telling stories, hanging around fires, and generally being festive with the people we love. It’s old as the hills: the lyrics are well over 100 years old, and the tune dates back to at least the 16th century, if not earlier. Absolutely everybody knows the thing, and even the folks who don’t can chime in cheerfully on the “Fa la la la la” part. It’s ridiculously easy to sing without being boring. Plus it’s spawned one of the finest song parodies ever: “Deck Us All with Boston Charlie,” from Walt Kelly’s Pogo, a parody that’s almost as beloved as the original song.

And it doesn’t mention God, or Jesus, or angels, or virgin births, or magical talking animals, or redemption of guilt through blood sacrifice, or any supernatural anything. Not even once. Heck, it doesn’t even mention Christmas. This is a Yule song, dammit — and proud of it! If there are any gods at all who inspired this song, they are entirely pagan pre-Christian ones. Totally, 100% made of atheist Christmas win.

Honorable mentions. The 12 Days of Christmas. It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Up on the Housetop. Over the River and Through the Woods. Jolly Old St. Nicholas. The Christmas Song (a.k.a. Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire). I’ll Be Home For Christmas. Frosty the Snowman. Jingle Bell Rock. O Christmas Tree. All these fit all my criteria, and would be perfectly reasonable additions to your secular Christmas songbook. They just didn’t quite make my Top Ten.

Axial tilt is the reason for the season So Merry Christmas, to everybody who likes to celebrate it! Enjoy your decked halls, your ringing bells, your food, your hooch, your snow, your staying the hell out of the snow and fooling around, your sleigh rides, your expensive jewelry, your neighbors who you’re pestering with endless Christmas carols… and above all else, the people you love. There’s probably no God — so stop worrying, and enjoy Christmas!

44 comments

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  1. 1
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    I’m rooting for Rudy!
    It’s such fun to sing with my (non-English speaking) kids because it’s so easy and catchy.
    Same with Jingle Bells

  2. 2
    opposablethumbs

    Ah, we in Blighty get the joys (?) of Slade belting out the moderately ponderous rock classic Merry Christmas Everybody with no mention of religious anything at all :-)

    And everybody know it because the radios still trot it out every year regular as clockwork, adunnamany years later.

    (lyrics if ya want ‘em …

    Are you hanging up a stocking on your wall?
    It’s the time that every Santa has a ball
    Does he ride a red nosed reindeer?
    Does a ‘ton up’ on his sleigh
    Do the fairies keep him sober for a day?
    Chorus:
    So here it is merry Christmas
    Everybody’s having fun
    Look to the future now
    It’s only just begun
    Are you waiting for the family to arrive?
    Are you sure you got the room to spare inside?
    Does your granny always tell ya that the old songs are the best?
    Then she’s up and rock ‘n’ rollin’ with the rest
    Chorus:
    So here it is merry Christmas
    Everybody’s having fun
    Look to the future now
    It’s only just begun
    What will your daddy do
    When he sees your Mama kissin’ Santa Claus?
    Ah ah
    Are you hanging up a stocking on your wall?
    Are you hoping that the snow will start to fall?
    Do you ride on down the hillside in a buggy you have made?
    When you land upon your head then you’ve been slayed
    Chorus (3x)
    So here it is merry Christmas
    Everybody’s having fun
    Look to the future now
    It’s only just begun
    )

    Considering the alternatives, this one should make it onto a Brit list I think!

  3. 3
    drl2

    I’m partial to “Closing of the Year”, which probably borders on the “well known” criteria since it was the opening song of a Robin Williams movie (albeit one that was horrible in every other way…) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_akaZo1VtU )

    If we remove the “not well known” and “not parody” rules, I’d go with some of Bob Rivers’ XMas parodies, like “The Buttcracker Suite” or “Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire”. (Though “The Chimney Song” is not technically a parody – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rW6nyN1bf8g )

    I also like some of Trans Siberian Orchestra’s instrumentals, and even a few of their other songs where I just have to pretend the blatant religious references aren’t there :)

  4. 4
    David Hart

    Jethro Tull’s Ring Out, Solstice Bells doesn’t get a look-in? That one’s good fun and pretty druidical.

    Also, I went to your link about the gruesome ones, and I can’t help but notice that neither of your versions of Down In Yon Forest are the splendidly dark fire-and-brimstone rendition by Woven Hand, everyone’s favourite gothic hillbilly Christian rock band. If you don’t know them, you’re missing out :-)

  5. 5
    Alverant

    I know Weird Al is famous for parodies, but both of his Christmas songs (“Christmas at Ground Zero” and “The Night Santa Went Crazy”) are originals. Some parodies are “I saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus”, “Pirate Christmas” by Tom Smith, and the “Fanboy Christmas” trilogy by the Great Lukeski.

    I also want to add “Ultimate Ultimate Christmas” by Tom Smith to the list of good Atheist Christmas songs.

  6. 6
    amandamarcotte

    You missed the best of the most recent Christmas songs, which is firmly in the “love during Christmas” genre:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXQViqx6GMY

    And so secular!

    I don’t want a lot for Christmas
    There is just one thing I need
    I don’t care about the presents
    Underneath the Christmas tree

    I just want you for my own
    More than you could ever know
    Make my wish come true
    All I want for Christmas
    Is you

    I don’t want a lot for Christmas
    There is just one thing I need
    And I don’t care about the presents
    Underneath the Christmas tree

    I don’t need to hang my stocking
    There upon the fireplace
    Santa Claus won’t make me happy
    With a toy on Christmas Day

    I just want you for my own
    More than you could ever know
    Make my wish come true
    All I want for Christmas is you
    You baby

    Oh I won’t ask for much this Christmas
    I won’t even wish for snow
    And I’m just gonna keep on waiting
    Underneath the mistletoe

    I won’t make a list and send it
    To the North Pole for Saint Nick
    I won’t even stay awake to
    Hear those magic reindeer click

    ‘Cause I just want you here tonight
    Holding on to me so tight
    What more can I do?
    Baby all I want for Christmas is you
    You

    Oh all the lights are shining
    So brightly everywhere
    And the sound of children’s
    Laughter fills the air

    And everyone is singing
    I hear those sleigh bells ringing
    Santa won’t you bring me the one I really need?
    Won’t you please bring my baby to me?

    Oh I don’t want a lot for Christmas
    This is all I’m asking for
    I just want to see my baby
    Standing right outside my door

    Oh I just want you for my own
    More than you could ever know
    Make my wish come true
    Baby all I want for Christmas is
    You baby

    All I want for Christmas is you baby
    All I want for Christmas is you baby
    All I want for Christmas is you baby

  7. 7
    robertbaden

    It has to be a good song? So I guess “Grandma Got Run Over” is out. :(

  8. 8
    Alverant

    If you go to thefump.com they have some free funny Christmas songs to download that would qualify. Actually they might not qualify since even though they are funny, they might be seen as tasteless.

  9. 9
    Deen

    I like Chris Rea’s “Driving home for Christmas”. It has a few lines with “Get my feet on holy ground”, though, not sure if that’s supposed to be a religious reference. From the context I’ve always assumed he simply meant “get my butt home”.

    Also, I wanted to nominate Miss Montreal, Being alone at Christmas (which is actually a happy song). And while this song will be virtually unknown outside the Netherlands, so it doesn’t really fit the “well-known” criteria, I wanted to throw it into the mix anyway, just because it’s so positive.

  10. 10
    Trebuchet

    I’ve always found “Santa Baby” a bit creepy. Perhaps I need to reconsider.

  11. 11
    chrisj

    I wouldn’t regard Rudolph the magic negro[1] as worthy of an honourable mention; the “story” of the song is repulsive on a level with many of the worse Christian Carols[2]. (R is different, and everyone mocks and despises him for it. Then one day it turns out that he might be useful to the boss, and all of a sudden everyone wants to be his friend. And we’re supposed to think this is inspirational and the other reindeer are lovely because they came round in the end. It’s nasty, and they’re small-minded bigoted sycophants.)

    [1] he doesn’t actually quite fill the classic magical negro trope, because he doesn’t have to give his life to save the white hero before everyone loves him, but it’s pretty close in other ways.
    [2] though I’ll grant not with the very worst. There’s social unpleasantness in Rudolph, but no massacres or hate-speech against actual groups of humans.

  12. 12
    rory

    @6, I don’t have an opinion on Mariah Carey in general one way or the other, but ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’ is without a doubt my least favorite Christmas song ever. I would rather listen to the sound of adorable orphans having their Christmas presents fed through a woodchipper.

    ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ would probably be my favorite. It’s got a nice melancholy quality to it that goes down smoothly. ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch’ is another one which I’m always happy to belt out when it comes on the radio.

  13. 13
    Gregory in Seattle

    I would have liked to have added Tom Lehrer’s Christmas Song, but the lines “God rest ye, merry merchants / May ye make the Yule time pay! / Angels we have heard on high / Tell us to go out and buy” probably disqualify it from this list. Still, it is a fine example of what modern Christmas is all about.

  14. 14
    Kagehi

    Right.. so.. Think I am going back to the parodies, sorry. There are only maybe two on that list that, especially having to listen to like 43 versions of them in a retail store, don’t bug the hell out of me. lol And, most of the disqualified ones don’t just bug me, but I keep thinking, “I wonder what they stole to make this?”, since so many songs where once something else, before they got “borrowed” to make into religious works. :p

    Still nice try. ;)

  15. 15
    katiemarshall

    My very favourite version of any of these is Carol of the Bells played by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Metallica…it’s amazing. Not very singable, but…spine-shivering. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vNcGlM8O3I

  16. 16
    mikeym

    “Holly Jolly Christmas”

    Ho, ho the mistletoe
    Hung where you can see
    Somebody waits for you
    Kiss her once for me

  17. 17
    Gregory in Seattle

    @katiemarshall #15 – Have you heard Carol of the Bells performed by a capella group Pentatonix?

  18. 18
    cactuswren

    Baltimore Consort’s recording of “Shropshire Wakes”:

    http://youtu.be/z-YRT-Wodgo

    Then hey for Christmas once a year
    When we have cakes and ale and beer
    And to our Christmas feast there comes
    Both men and maids to shake their bums

  19. 19
    Pieter B, FCD

    ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ ties my gut in a knot. About 50 years ago there was an art-house movie called IIRC The Victors. It was a heavy-handed anti-war film, and one scene had the follow-the-bouncing-ball Bing Crosby version of ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ running in what’s now called the “lower third.” Above it a soldier was marched out in the snow to his execution by firing squad. I cannot hear that song without thinking of that scene.

  20. 20
    Anthony K

    Is Fairytale of New York by Kirsty MacColl and The Pogues not a Christmas song?

  21. 21
    otrame

    Carol of the Bells is by far my favorite.

    My other I can’t tell you the name of–maybe someone can tell me. It’s old. I had it on a cassette from a music appreciation class. It is Mary singing to the baby she has just given birth to. It is mostly just a young mother being stunned by the emotions she is feeling. I don’t remember that it does more than mention that he is a special child, but in truth, it has been a long time–I lost the tape and it is not one I can replace. The only part I can remember is the phrase, “here in my arms as I rock thee to sleep” and “rockabye”.

  22. 22
    bcfrommt

    Not sure this qualifies but I am partial to Robert Earl Keen’s Merry Christmas from the Family. My take on it is more sympathetic than the YouTube videos. But couldn’t find a straightforward version to link to.

    Merry Christmas from the Family

    It’s all about the music.

  23. 23
    katybe

    I used to go out wassailing with these guys, and would suggest an honourable mention for Landlord. It may be less known now but my mother was familiar with it, and I’ve heard it used in a tv series, so I think it stayed in the popular UK culture for longer than some of the others – http://www.beerfordbury.co.uk/BBTWTA/words.htm#Landlord.

    I used to enjoy it because most of the songs were about dark nights, fires, friends and alcohol, and not about anything religious, and we went round just before christmas collecting money for charity by singing at drunks in country pubs. There are some MP3s on the website too, and I’d like to throw out a recommendation for The King, although it’s much more obscure!.

  24. 24
    Anthony K

    I should note that the song I linked in comment 20 has homophobic and misogynist slurs as insults in it. Sorry about that.

  25. 25
    Desert Son, OM

    “Father Christmas” by The Kinks, 1977. Economic disparity and socio-economic class through the lens of the season, with commentary on commercialism, money, and poverty. It’s not exactly a happy song, and includes mention of violence, but in some ways, it has more to say about charity, social issues, and thinking of others at this time of year than many religious-themed offerings. Plus it’s The Kinks.

    “Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses, 1981. Stylized vocals and semi-stream-of-consciousness mark lyrics encompassing many of the stresses of the holidays born of socio-cultural expectations, yet retains a sense of joy and fun, punctuated by bright trumpet and saxophone interludes. Lead singer Patty Donahue sadly died in 1996, aged 40.

    Still learning,

    Robert

  26. 26
    psanity

    I collect odd and interesting Christmas music, most of which would not meet Greta’s qualifications. I do love “The Holly and the Ivy”, although it’s very short if you stop before it’s hijacked by Jesus. I would love to find more pagan words to that song.

    Around here, we like the Grinch song, as mentioned above, and also “Welcome Christmas” from the same show, and we’re very fond of “Kidnap the Sandy Claws”. It’s just so cheerful.

    Hm. Preview isn’t working. I will have to trust my very shaky html-fu.

  27. 27
    rory

    @psanity 26,

    Nice catch with ‘Kidnap the Sandy Claws.’ Most of ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ soundtrack would also qualify, I think (“What’s This?” is great).

  28. 28
    badgersdaughter

    I was about to mention “Fairytale in New York” as well.

  29. 29
    magistramarla

    I know that Greta doesn’t want parodies, but these two are favorites of mine.

    http://xmasfun.com/Lyrics.aspx?ID=82

    http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/c/christmas_songs/nuttin_for_christmas.htmlist

    When I sang in public school choirs, there was never a big deal made out of the fact that our choir director chose mostly secular songs, along with a mixture of Christian, Jewish and songs from other cultures.
    Our girls’ ensemble sang “The Twelve Days After Christmas” and it brought down the house.
    I did a solo of “Nuttin For Christmas”, and I came out wearing a backwards baseball cap, swinging a bat, and blowing bubbles with bubble gum (which I theatrically stuck on the microphone before beginning to sing). The choir director loved it so much that she asked me to do it again the following year.

    I have a favorite foreign language carol, which does mention Jesus in French, but it is also a great memory from that time of my life – “Un Flambeau, Jeanette Isabella”.

    http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/c/christmas_songs/un_flambeau.html

    I think that it might have been Jr. High Choir. We stood on risers in the shape of a Christmas tree wearing green capes and holding candles. Soloists sang holiday songs from a variety of cultures.
    My solo was “Un Flambeau”. The teacher taught me the correct French pronunciation and I can sing it correctly to this day, even though it’s the only French that I know. My French teacher colleague when I was teaching was impressed.

  30. 30
    sceptinurse

    You left out “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas”. I too love Carol of the Bells. It’s one of the few songs I can play on the harp.

  31. 31
    Eric O

    I’d say that “Happy Holiday” by Irving Berlin meets the criteria. It’s entirely secular, fairly well known, and as a bonus, it makes absolutely no mention of Christmas.

    I also like to imagine that this song would make Bill O’Reilly froth with rage.

  32. 32
    jnorris

    I worked retail at many a Christmas and the music system played the same 12-15 songs over and over and over and … Any way, I do not like Christmas songs at all. Exception is the Carol of the Bells, they don’t do that one in retail stores.

  33. 33
    Caish P

    Apart from Carol of the Bells, and White Wine in the Sun, my favourite christmas carol would probably be Snoopy’s Christmas – does anyone else know that one or was it just my family that grew up with it?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbhzqoYYROA

    I’m surprised no one’s mentioned John Lennon’s Happy Xmas either – always a family favourite in my house. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yN4Uu0OlmTg

    Being Australian, I find after a while I get bored of songs about snow and winter…

  34. 34
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    I’ve always found “Santa Baby” a bit creepy. Perhaps I need to reconsider.

    No.

    I’m at kind of a loss here since “vocal jazz” and its ilk are like nails on a chalkboard to me. >.>

  35. 35
    llyris

    Perhaps Tim Minchin’s White wine in the sun is better known in Australia.
    Also probably better known in Australia are Carol of the Birds (Wheeler/James) and Six white Boomers (Harris). These were childhood staples, because it is quite weird to be singing about snow and ice while the sun hammers down like an open furnace.

  36. 36
    Nick Gotts

    Bah, humbug!

    Dreadful stuff, all of them.

  37. 37
    edmundog

    “Do kids still sing that even though “Batman” isn’t on TV anymore?”

    A- Batman is always on TV.

    B- Yes, some of my students were singing it yesterday.

  38. 38
    Crimson Clupeidae

    Here’s my contribution:

    https://vimeo.com/34139179

    Me on sax. :)

  39. 39
    adan

    No love for O Tannenbaum? For shame.

  40. 40
    HappyNat

    Fairy Tale, White Wine, and Father Christmas have been said so I have nothing to add there.

    Seconding Edmundog, the Batman is still on TV, and movies, and legos, and comic books, and water bottles, and anything else you can imagine. Both my kids learned “Batman Smells” from different sources, so it’s alive and well.

  41. 41
    Ubi Dubium

    Wassail Wassail, almost qualifies. There’s a few offhand mentions of “may god send our master a good christmas pie” but apart from that it’s about drinking and eating. Well, mostly drinking. And it’s a rollickingly good fun song to sing.

    Honorable mentions also to “Mele Kalikimaka” and “Feliz Navidad” (which has the advantage of not having a lot of words to remember.)

    And of course, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”. And “Christmastime is Here” from A Charlie Brown Christmas.

  42. 42
    Lithified Detritus

    the time-honored “Jingle bells, Batman smells” oeuvre. (Tangent: Do kids still sing that even though “Batman” isn’t on TV anymore?)

    Edmundog & HappyNat beat me to it – yes, they do.

    Realizing that this dates back at least to my childhood, 50+ years ago. Not sure if it may have originated even before that, from the comic books.

  43. 43
    Lithified Detritus

    How about Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis?

    I’m never sure whether to laugh or cry, or both. I’m also not sure whether it really counts as a Christmas song.

  44. 44
    M. E.

    Perhaps an atheist might like this wickedly dark version of Silent Night?
    Actually, they might condemn it to hell.

    https://soundcloud.com/marcalamari/silent-night-demented

  1. 45
    Christmas Love

    […] MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM US TO YOU! For the second year in a row, we decided to do Christmas cards. [These were our Christmas cards last year.] Mike actually brought up the idea of cards about a week ago. Luckily, we … 10 Christmas Carols Even An Atheist Could Love – Freethought Blogs […]

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