The worst Christmas song while grading is…

The mountain of papers have been graded! The grades have all been posted on Canvas! The students can now put down their pitchforks, and instead begin their pleas…”I’m only 0.2% away from a B+! Can’t you just bump me up a little bit?” Fortunately, I planned ahead: the final exam in this course is optional, and the score on it will replace their lowest exam score for the semester, so I can just tell them to go earn those extra points by doing well on the final. Then, after the final, I will vanish into a spider hole, they’ll all vanish to spend the break with their families, and I will be spared!

Now, though, I have to recover…I’m Christmas Caroled Out. I had to go to a dentist’s appointment first thing this morning — they were playing Christmas carols. I went to the coffee shop to buckled down and get my grading done — they were playing Christmas carols. I stopped at the grocery store on the way home to pick up a few essentials — they were playing Christmas carols. I’ve had enough. I hate Christmas carols, we’ve had enough of them for this year.

I have, at least, concluded empirically that the worst Christmas song to be forced to listen to while having your teeth scraped, or grading, or buying kitty litter is, without question, Ave Maria. Fight me.

We could probably dicker over whether the Andy Williams version or the Celine Dion version blows hardest.


  1. Akira MacKenzie says

    It’s a good thing I only choose listen to novelty Christmas songs. I’d go insane–well, more so than I am now–if I had to take this Holiday shit seriously.

  2. davidc1 says

    This little ditty was fav in the mid 70s at my school ,sung to the tune of Jingle bells .
    It describes a few teachers .
    “Jingle Bells
    Maggie smells
    Porky’s got no hair .
    Mr Clewes is on the booze
    And Woodisy is a square ”
    I know as a member of the teaching profession you might not approve .

    And it is a bit unfair on the teacher known as Porky because he taught stuff that now interests me .

  3. Rob Grigjanis says

    That setting of “Ave Maria” has certainly been annoyingly overplayed for many years, but listening to John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” is like having one’s teeth drilled without anaesthetic.

  4. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    During the holiday season, my kids like to tune their radios to the local Christmas music station and leave them on all night to help them sleep (usually it’s the classical music station, which is MUCH more tolerable). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve awoken during the night to Mariah Carey these past few weeks. It’s horrible. Please, January… hurry.

  5. says

    My list of tolerable xmas music totals four:

    “Santa Jaws” (A and B sides), a Canadian novelty song from 1975
    The Pretenders, “2000 Miles” (because it’s a tribute to James Honeyman-Scott)
    Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite (classical, Les Brown, or even Brian Setzer)
    The Kinks, “Father Christmas”:

    Father Christmas, give us some money
    Don’t mess around with those silly toys
    We’ll beat you up if you don’t hand it over
    We want your bread so don’t make us annoyed
    Give all the toys to the little rich boys

    Feel free to look them up. After the fourteenth.

  6. says

    The one I hate is “Christmas Shoes,” because the theme seems to be ‘God killed some kid’s mom to teach some rando the spirit of giving.’

  7. says

    I’ve long liked “Il est né, le divin Enfant…” well enough, but then I don’t have to listen to it more often than I choose since in English-speaking Canada (not to mention Oregon when I lived there) doesn’t play the exclusively French hymns. (If they play French carols at all, they play ones that are mere French-language arrangements of carols famous for their English versions, or at minimum ones where the English & French versions are equally well known, like Douce nuit).

    The only non-parody Christmas song I’ve ever really, truly enjoyed was a wordless version of “Ring Christmas Bells” played on a bell chorus. They had slightly gong-like bells for the “ring merrymerrymerry Christ-mas” and it was played in a register just low enough that the higher-pitched bells didn’t pierce uncomfortably.

    The best time I’ve ever had singing Christmas carols was in the early 90s when I was doing a lot of actions with the Lesbian Avenges and we wrote a bunch of our own parody carols to promote queer visibility and have fun. All of the lyrics were collaborations to greater or lesser degrees, but one that I was mostly responsible for I can still remember today:

    Betsy the bi-gal, was a fairy tale they say
    Well she’d dated men, but she lived in sin
    With a dyke named Chris McKay…

  8. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    Back when CDs were still a thing, I used to want to release a various-artists compilation of twisted Christmas songs called “20 Tons of Poison Mistletoe.” I had a couple bands lined up to contribute, too, I just never got around to it (and now those bands are as dead as physical media).

  9. embraceyourinnercrone says

    Dr Demento has a Christmas album I love, I bake cookies to it:

    Christmas Dragnet, Christmas at Ground Zero and Green Chri$tma$ are some of of the ones I like on it

    Santa Claus and his old lady by Cheech and Chong is a particular favorite

  10. whheydt says

    Our local classical station did something reasonably clever. They set up a separate streaming channel that is all Christmas music and only play occasional pieces on the main channel. I haven’t even tried to see if I can get the alternate channel to play on my “alarm clock”.

  11. ColeYote says

    Wait, Ave Maria is a Christmas song? Can’t say I’ve ever made that particular association. Anyway, since we’re sharing, here’s a partial list of may least-favourite Christmas songs (in no particular order):

    Happy Christmas (War is Over) [on that note, I hate Imagine too, Paul > John]
    Wonderful Christmastime [George > Paul]
    Holly Jolly Christmas
    Jingle Bell Rock
    Little Drummer Boy
    I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas
    The Christmas Shoes
    Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer
    I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
    The Christmas Song (Don’t Be Late)
    Do They Know It’s Christmas
    Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
    Twelve Days of Christmas
    All I Want For Christmas is my Two Front Teeth
    Santa Claus is Coming to Town
    Jingle Bells
    Most Christmas songs that weren’t written by Jonathan Coulton, honestly

  12. springa73 says

    Hmm, never had any particular hostility to any Christmas songs, and some of the ones people say they hate I actually kind of like. They are of course overplayed this time of year.

  13. brightmoon says

    The one I can’t stand is This Christmas. I don’t know who it’s by and don’t care. My favourite is probably Jingle Bell Rock probably because I was a very little kid when it first came out .

  14. doubter says

    Tom Lehrer did a good Christmas medley. And there’s always the Eric Idle classic “Fuck Christmas”.

  15. Kevin Karplus says

    I haven’t heard any Christmas music this year—but the grocery stores I shop at don’t play music, and the gym I work out at only plays stuff chosen by college students (irritating, but not Christmasy). I’m on leave this quarter, so not grading (but I’m preparing for the onslaught of grading in the next two quarters—I’m hoping to keep it down to 40 hours a week this year). I gave up on doing my grading in coffee shops a couple of years ago, when Peet’s bought Mighty Leaf and eliminated all their cheap teas in favor of overpriced ones. I now do my grading at home in my breakfast room.

  16. hemidactylus says

    Well, well PZ makes a point of bashing debate me, but he’s wanting a fight. A knock down drag out Pier Six Brawl. Ok. I’m game. One name. Ahem…Bolton:

    The poofy blow dried poodle mullet thing pretty much seals it because listening to Bolton is bad enough. I posted evidence. Add to that his entire Christmas oeuvre on endless loop.

    Now I need to find the brain bleach. I think in taking on PZ’s Christmas song challenge I may have done irreparable damage to myself. Ouch it burns. Make it stop!

  17. knut7777 says

    One Christmas song heard one time and I have had my fill: Elvis singing Blue Christmas. Beyond that I am in agreement with Christopher Hitchen’s admirably curmudgeonly annual anti-holidays essays. The whole season is reminiscent of living in a one party state: ‘the collectivization of gaiety and the compulsory infliction of joy’

  18. hemidactylus says

    Oh shit…it can get much worse. Mix Ave Maria with Bolton:

    I have seen the deepest regions of hell reflected back at me. I don’t feel right saying this represents a win-win for PZ and I because when PZ’s most despised song is sung by Bolton there are no winners. We all lose.

  19. says

    Glad to see Weird Al’s “Christmas at Ground Zero” mentioned positively. I’ve been playing it a lot this year, polishing it up enough I could even play it in front of someone else. The video mashes up dopey Santa glurge from 16mm school films with “Duck and Cover” insanity, and Al said once that it was the only song he wrote out of anger.
    I mostly don’t listen to stuff I don’t like, but when I’m at Wegman’s, I always hear “Up on the Housetop” as performed by, I believe, the Jacksons, and the whole thing seems to take place in the top four notes of a very high voice’s register, and it does hurtful things to the place where my skull hangs over the back of my neck.
    Special points to George Rock, trumpeter and vocalist for Spike Jones and his City Slickers, for recording several sides that I can’t bear to listen to. It’s by Spike Jones, and I hate it! How does that work?? At this time of year, the worst offender is “All I Want For Christmas is My Two Front Teeth,” though the most horrific of all is “Do You Wanna Buy a Bunny?” Perhaps it was hilarious to see this immense, bulky man with a mustache singing in a high-pitched lisp, but it’s just a knot in the stomach for me.

  20. says

    My favorite is White Wine in the Sun by Tim Minchin. Ausi guy who does comedy and music. Also a very outspoken atheist and a man who despises any woo woo peddlers.

  21. anchor says

    Personally, the season achieves the apex of revulsion when people spontaneously break into the obligatory rendition of ‘Auld Lang Syne’, as if everybody in a congregation of people suddenly become Scotsmen (‘Truly’) and pretend to acknowledge they all share the same misfortunes. Shortly afterwards, of course, they return to their selfish ways of othering each other. I’ve hated it ever since I was a toddler – the way it evokes inconsolable sadness and nostalgia whilst its singers joyfully smile through tears of grief and shared pain with the mindlessness of masochistic monks thrashing themselves to achieve some dubious state of grace. I can’t help but get physically ill by the sensation of off-scale hypocrisy at level 11. It may well be the most hideous recurring earworm conceived by the mind of Western Civilization. I can’t stand it.

  22. Porivil Sorrens says

    I’m fond of Mele Kalikimaka myself, my family used to always spend christmas in hawaii given that my mother is from there, so it has a fairly pleasant connotation in my mind.

  23. microraptor says

    I was in the grocery store a couple days ago, listening to the piped-in Christmas music and the thing that really struck me was just how dated most of it is. Normally, stores play some bland, inoffensive music that’s recent- 80s at the oldest but often even that will be mixed in with modern songs. Come Christmas time and suddenly the speakers are pumping out 50s music.

    Oh, and if we’re going for favorites, in addition to the already-mentioned The Night Santa Went Crazy, I’m fond of Halestorm’s cover of Mistress For Christmas.

  24. chrislawson says

    Christmas carols are songs not good enough to be put in regular rotation. Otherwise we’d hear them all year. I don’t wait for christmas to play ‘Fairytale of New York’ or ‘Calling on Mary’. Even the traditional carols are pretty woeful. The only one I think has much musical merit is ‘God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen’.

  25. chrislawson says

    Not a comment on christmas — but that is an excellent way of motivating students who want to improve their grades.

  26. call me mark says

    Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) by The Darkness is notable for (almost) including the phrases “bell end” and “ring piece” in the lyrics. A wonderful work of tongue-in-cheek Christmas scatology.

  27. gijoel says

    @41 How to make gravy is a classic. The hilarious thing about it is that Paul Kelly wanted to cover another Xmas song, but someone else had already done it. So he went out and wrote his own classic.

  28. Don F says

    I always liked “Deck the Halls” . . . probably because it has my name in it:
    “Don we now our gay apparel . . . .”
    And now that I have a daughter named Holly, I like it even more. ( although she doesn’t actually have boughs ;^)

  29. Don F says

    Most Xmas music by Mannheim Steamroller is stuff I could listen to anytime, even with its background music vibe.

  30. says

    Wow. I haven’t thought of Mannheim Steamroller in quite some time. I did at one point own an MS christmas album, but my favorite MS album was the one with Crickets and Toccata… I can’t remember the name of that one. Let’s see what the great Pfft of all knowledge has to say, shall we?

    :click, whirr…:

    Ah, it was Fresh Aire III. And it was “The Cricket” rathe than “Crickets”. Shows you how well I remember music I haven’t owned or listened to in 25 years. Looking at the list of Fresh Aires I also remember some of each of them, including how, b/c my love of mythology, I wanted to like Fresh Aire VI more than I actually did.

    Anyway, Mannheim Steamroller Christmas was, indeed, much better than anything else Christmas-y that I heard back then.

  31. Toklineman says

    Even classical music radio stations start devoting chunks of each hour to “holiday music” (Jingle Bells by the Canadian Brass, anyone?). I evade this intrusion into my home by going online via Roku to TuneIn for Swiss Radio Classic (also Classique or Classico, depending on your language preferences–I like German).
    When saturated by Bing Crosby by venturing out for food, I turn to Tom Lehrer for the antidote:

  32. stroppy says

    I do periodically tune in to Radio Swiss Classic. Recently I’ve discovered that if I tune into Sochi Lounge, lie down and drift, I can sometimes get relief from the incessant gear-grinding noise of the insane Republican clown posse.

    Will somebody PLEASE make them stop!

  33. psilotum says

    Ave Maria as pop Christmas music is such a non sequitur that I don’t think it’s ever registered with me as something to like or dislike. Lots of OK possibilities for the worst X-mas song have been mentioned, but it looks like the actual worst song has been overlooked: Santa Baby. Everything about it in any of its versions is truly awful, from the unironic hyper-consumerism of the lyrics to the mewling, sexualized pseudo-little-girl voice it’s always sung in. And for some reason it seems to be in heavy rotation this year. Uggh.

  34. says

    35: Wow! What’s the most horrible part? Is it where they all wear fake kilts and tam-o-shanters and eat fake haggis (“vegetarian haggis” my hog’s-eye!) and toss logs around? Oh, I see now. It’s where, once a year, they sing a sentimental song at midnight that happens to have been written by someone from Scotland.

    That’s some pretty awful stuff there. We should learn from this, and never ever sing or enjoy anything that’s not from our specific, provable lineage. Or just play it safe and not sing or enjoy anything of any description, lest it prove to be the acme of disgustfulness.

  35. jack16 says

    “Rudolph” earned my instant dislike. As all children know Santa’s reindeer would never discriminate, that’s evil! More, Santa was a magical being, he needed no guidance.


  36. anchor says

    55: Well good for you. What’s ‘the most horrible part’? For me – personally – being within earshot. I repeat, that happens to be my “personal” reaction to that insufferable earworm. I’m sure you can appreciate the possibility that the affliction is a real thing. The season that occasions it may occur ‘only once a year’ but during that relatively brief interval of the year it appears in countless films and commercial media sources that people play or are otherwise exposed to in public places and these are repeated relentlessly…and this circumstance happens each and every year on the heals of the massive dose of Christmas carols. For one afflicted with hypersensitivity to earworm, it isn’t easy to avoid it except by ducking out of it. I’m glad you can enjoy it. I wish I could tolerate it as easily. Count yourself lucky not to suffer a severe sensitivity to excessive repetition. Not everyone is so fortunate.

  37. says

    60: “Well good for you.” I’ll treasure the maturity of your response always.

    Thanks for so clearly expanding on your initial complaint of cultural appropriation, and explaining just how many, many times “Auld Lang Syne” gets played, for the benefit of those who, inexplicably, haven’t noticed its relentless, excessive repetition.

  38. says

    Another nominee for worst: Pachelbel’s Canon, which is multiple layers of misguided repurposing and honored only in the breach among serious musicians to start with. As a cellist of my acquaintance says, it is the work of the devil… and it’s even worse when trying to conduct it with talented-but-not-all-that-experienced youth musicians. And then there’s the multilayer fiasco of associating it with Ordinary People (one of the most cringeworthy Hollywoodish errors in that film) and various other pop-music reuses by almost entirely fourth-rate artists and composers.

    Give me Weird Al Yankovic any time. Especially since that song came out while I had… professional concerns… with special weapons.

  39. says

    honored only in the breach

    Well, yes. I had a high school acquaintance that played an intriguing mashup of Pachelbel’s Canon and Louie Louie. It was awesome.

    But my favorite interpretation of PC is by LAGQ: Pachelbel’s Loose Canon. Good times.

    Somewhere in between childhood novelty and LAGQ is Rob Paravonian’s Pachelbel Rant. I remind you not to click the link until Saturday at 0:01 hours if you’re respecting the Youtube boycott, but I’ll include the link here for those not observing the boycott as well as for those who are reading this (or come back to it) once Friday the 13th has passed…

  40. hemidactylus says

    This blog being the imagined ground zero for woke CTRL-leftness (sarcasm), I would have thunk the IDW bogey of cultural appropriation would get far more airing than being a slight tangent on a thread about Christmas songs. Are nonbelievers who aren’t fighting a War on Christmas and actually doing seasonal things appropriating Christian cultural representations? To me Christmas often reflects interesting cultural borrowings and hybridizations. And town creches often represent the semi-permeability of Jefferson’s wall depending on sponsorship and location.

    One even doesn’t need to be orthodox religious to bemoan the infusion of capitalistic ideology resulting in a economically driven regime of mutual gifting, guilt, resentment, relative deprivation, inadequacy and cycles of indebtedness. And the lighting results in larger power bills, but maybe not as much as year-round air conditioning/heating, refrigeration, and cable boxes. Surely many of the decorations and unwanted gifts make their way into the landfills.

    Carols are but transient forms of noise pollution in comparison. Ah the “joys“ of Christmas. The bills come due soon enough. And corporations benefit.

  41. John Small Berries says

    I know music tastes are extremely subjective, but I have a hard time comprehending how “Ave Maria” could be worse than “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time”.

  42. Rob Grigjanis says

    blf @68: For gritty, depressing seasonal fare, I’ll choose Tom Waits’ “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” any day.

  43. archangelospumoni says

    Archangelo Spumoni, actual musician here.

    ANY time you are at the cocktail lounge/piano bar with the actual, live, human piano player and you ask for “As time goes by” you are obligated to drop AT LEAST $10 into the player’s hat/cap/jar/whatever. If you really insist on hearing this one, do not ever think of NOT tipping handsomely. The piano player has had to play this one at least 1,000 times and it is torture.
    ANY time you see a Dixieland group and you ask for “Saints” you are further equally obligated . . . AT LEAST $20. Do not ever think of NOT paying semi-handsomely for this one. They have also played it at least 1,000 times.
    Renee Fleming is one of the world’s great sopranos and her Ave Maria is top shelf. Listen to this one and it will replace your previous most liked//most hated//whatever. She is soooo great, sooo polished, so magnificent–it’s worth it even though you may have previously hated the piece. Renee Fleming stepped back from her Metropolitan Opera career and is doing more non-opera stuff and she is one of the world’s great musicians.
    She also was on Letterman, doing “Top 10 Opera Lyrics” and it’s hilarious:
    If you or an acquaintance or a friend or an enemy or your neighbor or your student or your offspring is getting married and they even consider Pachelbel’s Canon in D, please reconsider. Offer them $200 NOT to have this one played. It is not nice to make professional musicians weep while having to play something for the 500th time.

  44. says

    I played “As Time Goes By” to an audience of old folks at an assisted-living facility yesterday, and had no urge to demand additional payment. I like playing it, as long as I get to play the verse as well.

    On the other hand, if I got a request for “Piano Man,” I might pretend not to understand English. It’s far more repetitive and limited than anyone’s canon: just the same diddly dee-dah-dah progression over and over, with Joel’s most profoundly trite and shallow lyrics (and it’s not that I don’t like him–I just don’t like this piece, and I’ll bet he’s sick as fuck of it). It’s 25% more boring for a pianist than the previous record holder, “Il Bacio.”

    Hm. It’s almost as if taste was neither absolute nor dictated from above. Speaking of being sick of a piece, in Elton John’s stage show, he once gave in to the demands and did his first hit “Friends.” In a Donald Duck suit. His performance was workmanlike, though at one point he did turn to the audience and say “Look at me! QUACK! QUACK!”

  45. mountainbob says

    “The least nobby dot” is my least favorite… think it’s in Spanish.

    Feliz Navidad dudes.