BY ERIK CHRISTENSEN
December 23, 2015
Call me nothing if not traditional. Ok, call me “old-fashioned,” if you must. I hang the old-school ceramic C9 light bulbs, not the cheap LEDs that everyone is now using. I want the little paper Danish flags decorating the tree, the way they did when I was kid.
I still lift my youngest daughter up to put the star on our tree even though she’s now 20 years old and stands 5-feet 10-inches. Football should be played outdoors in the wind and the mud. My iPod has 291 songs on the “Christmas” playlist, many of them standards and familiar favorites.
This is why it might be surprising to see that my All-Time, Top Five List of Christmas songs breaks from tradition and travels down some different, snow-covered paths. Pour your favorite beverage, click on the links, and listen along:
“Merry Christmas From The Family”
by Robert Earle Keen
I play this one at my shows this time of year and the beloved Texas poet perfectly captures the nitty-gritty of the holiday season:
Carve the turkey, turn the ballgame on
It’s margaritas when the eggnog’s gone
Send somebody to the Quick-pak Store
We need some ice and an extension cord
A can of bean dip and some Diet Rites
A box of Pampers, Marlboro Lights
Hallelujah, everybody say cheese
Merry Christmas from the family.
And, just when you think the song’s nothing but a goof on east Texas, you realize the redeeming quality in each verse is the Christmas songs mentioned throughout—“Feliz Navidad,” “The First Noel” and “Silent Night.” The PBR-swilling, chain-smoking, thrice-divorced relatives can all be redeemed by the songs of the season.
“Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”
by Bruce Springsteen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPM73W69wVs
A classic—Bruce’s take on the 1965 arrangement by The Supremes, with a little Jackson 5 thrown in. The video attached is from 1978, when the E Street Band was simply the best, sloppiest, most fun bar band in the world. As often happened in those days, the Clarence Clemons saxophone solo takes it through the roof. Rest in peace, big man.
“Peace In The Valley”
Perhaps not a full-fledged Christmas song, but this has always been a favorite of mine from the “If Everyday Were Like Christmas” CD, which is in heavy rotation around my house these days.
I’ll take this one over the much-loved “Blue Christmas,” although that’s been a favorite as well.
“The Christians And The Pagans”
by Dar Williams.
I think a lot was made of this song when it first came out: its sly humor, the acceptance and coming together of two different belief systems—and deservedly so:
But for me, this song has always been about family—the Christian family invites in the niece and her same-sex partner, even though they’re not close and the pair has been out celebrating Solstice. The gentle warmth and blood bond of family shines through, including the humor in the last line:
When Amber tried to do the dishes, her aunt said, “Really, no, don’t bother.”
Amber’s uncle saw how Amber looked like Tim and like her father.
He thought about his brother, how they hadn’t spoken in a year,
He thought he’d call him up and say, “It’s Christmas and your daughter’s here.”
He thought of fathers, sons and brothers, saw his own son tug his sleeve, saying,
“Can I be a Pagan?” Dad said, “We’ll discuss it when they leave.”
And now—the all-time
Number One Christmas song:
“All I Want For Christmas Is World Peace”
by Timbuk 3
Who wants a fuzz guitar and spacey, echo-laden harmonica on their Christmas song? I do, it turns out. That rare political song that isn’t preachy or self-righteous, this gem from the ‘80s punk-folk group makes a bold statement. Normally, I’m the last guy to pin society’s ills on violent lyrics, videos or games. But, after hearing the litany of hateful toys and cheap consumerism, it’s kinda hard to argue:
Transformers, Super Heroes
Thundercats in cast iron clothes
Rocket fingers, laser eyes
Cannon mouths and missile toes
…It looks to me like World War Three
Underneath the Christmas tree
Please dear Santa, Mr. Santa please
Can’t you make the firing cease?
A monster satellite TV
Sends Season’s Greetings from afar
Star Wars I and II and III
Chestnuts roasting on the VCR
All I want for Christmas
All I want for Christmas
All I want for Christmas
Is world peace.
What once was just a clever, cynically witty song has become sadly relevant in the last year or so.
I wish Merry Christmas to you and yours.
Peace on Earth.
Let the firing cease.
Erik Christensen teaches English at Oak Harbor High School, writes songs and poetry, and firmly believes in opening presents on Christmas Eve, as his Danish ancestors intended.
Erik Christensen Band will play at Front Street Grill in Coupeville from 6-8 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 20.
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