Merry/Happy Something or Other! Got Any Good Holiday Music?

I was originally going to write this big rant on all this bullshit about “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Kwanzaa” and “Happy Yule!” and “Season’s Greetings!” and whatnot and about how I will never understand why anyone gives a shit about what greeting is used during this time of the year, because isn’t it the sentiment behind it that matters? But ultimately decided that wasn’t worth my time because… really… I’m over it.

Say “merry Christmas!” to me, and I’ll say it back. Say “happy holidays!” to me, and I’ll say it back. Say any variation of “happy/merry [insert holiday celebrated in December here]” and I’ll say it back because the sentiment matters more to me than the frickin’ words we use.

But anyways…

After various discussions with people, I realized that I am a bit bah humbug about elements of this season…

I mean, I do sort of hate that, in our capitalist society, we have to start “celebrating” Christmas before Halloween ever gets around, but that’s not what this is about.


It’s about the music.

I do sometimes feel like, not counting the religious songs, there’s, like, maybe fifteen holiday songs at most just covered one billion times. I’ve ranted about this before, actually, on Facebook

Dear Famous Musicians (none of whom will ever read this),

I know that the holiday season is here, and anybody who’s anybody has at least one, if not multiple, holiday albums. But here’s the thing…

It’s not that I hate holiday music… it’s that I’m not impressed by “White Christmas” cover #501.

The best holiday music that I hear is generally the original stuff. Tim Minchin’s “White Wine in the Sun” is a perfect example of a damn good *original* Christmas (in this case) song.

Now I’m not going to sit here and say that writing original holiday music is easy. Hell… writing regular music isn’t easy! But yet another “brand new” recording of “Jingle Bells” is just boring.

So this holiday, give your fans a special gift: an album of brand new holiday songs that you wrote yourself.

Happy Holidays,

Nathan Hevenstone

But there is another issue, too. There are, actually, a lot of original holiday songs out there that aren’t, you know, cover #1066 of “Jingle Bells”. The problem is, those more often sound too much like “my label just told me I have to have a holiday album or they’ll drop me, and I have… like… a day. Let’s see how quickly I can bash one out with cliched ‘originals’…” and less like something with lyrics that had meaning to the writer.

I feel like you could bash out a holiday song in about two minutes flat following a tried and true formula:

  1. Sleigh bells
  2. A fake orchestra sound that evokes a “winter feeling”
    1. Major key
  3. Lyrics about some specific “holiday” thing
    1. Snow
    2. Feeling peaceful/benevolent
    3. Family
    4. Jesus Christ
    5. Love
      1. Falling in love
      2. Broken heart
      3. Falling out of love
    6. Santa Claus
    7. Sleigh bells
    8. Christmas tree
  4. Profit!

That formula generally guarantees a sure-fire short-lived holiday hit, but of course, the operative phrase, here, is “short lived”. And frankly, it’s very rare that this formula ends up with a song that’s actually inspiring.

That said, there’s a few holiday songs I enjoy.

First and foremost is, of course, Greg Lake’s “I Believe in Father Christmas”:

This was written by Greg Lake and Peter Sinfeld about how Christmas had gone from being a holiday about peace to a capitalist shopping nightmare (the video also critiqued war). These lyrics are real, and powerful, and a message I wish we would listen to.

(Incidentally, U2 covered it, and, although I’m not a fan of U2, I actually like it!)

Another one I really enjoy is, of course, Tim Minchin’s “White Wine in the Sun”:

Basically, this is a song about how and why an atheist could enjoy Christmas. It’s so powerful, and brings me to tears every time I hear it.

And for a bit of dark humor, I also rather enjoy Weird Al’s “Christmas at Ground Zero”, which may actually be the only time he got really political in a song:

And of course there’s John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”:

This is just about the only John Lennon song I like (I got over “Imagine” a long time ago). It’s a bit too optimistic, IMO, but considering why it was released, I can see why.

Sadly, however, my own personal holiday mix is… rather thin. So I’m asking you what music you enjoy during this season. But leave out the religious stuff, and the covers of “Jingle Bells” or “White Christmas” or “Baby it’s Cold Outside” or “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” or…

I want to know what holiday songs you enjoy that are unique and original, and that suggest, at least to you, that the writer spent time crafting the lyrics, because they meant something to her or him. Genre doesn’t matter that much to me.

And yes, I do know about the Tran-Siberian Orchestra’s “Carol of the Bells”, and ELP’s “Nutrocker”, and Greg Lake’s “Humbug”.

Anything else you got?


  1. StevoR says

    Well, I kinda not sure how you’ll take it & not my all-time fave song & there are a few obvious flaws in the message* but A Spaceman Came Travelling is a very different take on the whole nativity thing & I do kinda like that one.

    See :

    * Uh, the whole “mankind” dated exclusive terminology -- humanity please. Been over two thousand years & yeah, okay but still. Alien song for human peace. Not the worst notion in the cosmos & one semi-scientific explanation I guess.

  2. StevoR says

    PS. Merry New Year and happy Banarama*, Sol Invictus, Saturnalia and whatever else you choose to celebrate with family (or not) or friends. Have a good ‘un and many more to come and thanks for a great blog.

    *Shameless yoiked from Jim Wright of Stonekettle Station blog fame.

  3. revmatty says

    I’ve been collecting non-traditional Christmas songs for many many many years and have a collection, as of today, that tops 400 songs. They skew Indie/Punk but there’s a pretty wide variety. A few of my perennial favorites:

    Sometimes you have to work on Christmas -- Harvey Danger
    The Christmas Song -- Raveonettes
    Christmas Ghost -- Manic Street Preachers
    Christmas Day in the Sun -- Hot Hot Heat
    The World to Me -- Canadian Dollars
    Alan Parsons In A Winter Wonderland -- Grandaddy
    Noel D’orphanage -- l’Orphanage
    I Wanna Kiss You This Christmas -- Dave ‘n’ Megan
    Elf’s Lament -- Barenaked Ladies
    A Raised Fist for Christmas -- Chris Hatfield
    I Hate You This Christmas -- Kate Nash
    There Ain’t No Sanity Clause -- The Damned
    Santa Claus is Sometimes Brown -- El Vez
    Fa La La La Freezing -- My First Earthquake
    Santa God -- Pearl Jam
    Merry Christmas from Chiron Beta Prime -- Jonathan Coulton

    I also have a lot of really solid covers of Christmas classics but I find those less interesting than the originals.

  4. kestrel says

    OK, so Roy Zimmerman wrote a whole album for Christmas. Among them, this little treasure from YouTube: (with a tip of the hat to Bob Dylan, ha ha).

    I gave the CD (Peacenik) to the Partner for Xmas and he claims that when he heard the above song, listening on the way to work, that he laughed so hard he very nearly drove off the road.

    But there is more! For example: I don’t think the whole CD is online, but it’s a great CD. Well worth purchasing in my opinion.

  5. says

    Say “merry Christmas!” to me, and I’ll say it back.

    I won’t. I’ll say, “Have a nice weekend.” If it’s appropriate and polite every other month of the year, then it’s appropriate and polite in December.

    Regarding music, any music forcibly written about a topic tends to suck. Good songs come organically, from inspiration or things writers see, hear and read. The Pretenders song, “2000 Miles” is more a tribute to James Honeyman Scott than a xmas song. And Tchiakovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” works, whether by classical orchestras, Les Brown and His Band of Renown, or even (*shudder*) Brian Setzer.

    You weren’t around last year to see this, so I’ll point you to a Canadian xmas classic from 1975: Santa Jaws.

    Santa Jaws, “A side”
    Santa Jaws, “B side”

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