One of the weirder arguments I ever got into with a friend was over the song Here Comes Santa Claus. For context, this was back when I was still closeted, and I had met this friend while we were both members of an Evangelical touring teen choir. We got together one day to work on a gaming project, and I was playing Christmas music, which meant that every 40 minutes or so I would have to swap cassette tapes (because this was the stone ages, i.e., the early 1980s). About midway through Bing Crosby’s recording of Here Comes Santa Claus my friend stopped talking and got a weird frown. I asked him what was wrong, and he asked me to wait a minute, he was listening.
While Here Comes Santa Claus isn’t particularly my favorite Christmas song, it is fun to sing, and that particular recording has some fun orchestration, so I thought he was just appreciating the song. When it reached the end he said, “Disgusting!” and launched into a tirade about how secularism was destroying Christmas. Also, how could I listen to such blasphemous music?
The lyrics he objected to first were: “Santa knows that we’re God’s children, that makes everything right.” He felt it was telling children they weren’t going to hell just because Santa said so. Which I could understand where he was coming from, but it seemed more than a bit of a stretch. I pointed out that, first, it’s a children’s song, and second it wasn’t really that different than the sentiments expressed in a lot of hymns. Under the theology of the churches we both attended, if you were a born again Christian, then you were one of God’s children, et cetera.
His angry response was that most of the people who heard this song weren’t saved, though. And it would lead children astray. I quoted the lyrics of a few of his favorite christian songs, and pointed out that they weren’t all that different, but it didn’t mollify him. It just got him even more worked up.
He had other issues, such as the part of the song where it told children to pray to Santa. I pointed out it said no such thing, “Hang your stocking and say your prayers” meant to say your usual bedtime prayers, which lots of children in the sorts of churches we attend were expect to say every night.
Then he jumped to the part that pissed him off most: “Let’s give thanks to the lord above, ’cause Santa Claus comes tonight!” He was really upset about the notion of thanking god for Santa, and seemed to think that was the most blasphemous of all. I asked him how it was blasphemous to thank god for good things that happened, and his response was a rather confusing thing about myths and false gods. It just made no sense to me.
I had been thinking it was all pretty funny up until this point, but he was getting livid. And so I pushed back a bit harder than I probably ought. The girl he was dating (who eventually became his wife) was from a family that went to an even more fervent evangelical church than the one I attended. And they were one of those families who said, “Praise the Lord!” all the time. Any time that anything good happened, one would say, “Praise the Lord!” and the others would chime in with various affirmations.
And I do mean anything. Kid gets a decent grade at school? “Praise the Lord!” Bee buzzes around your head when you’re in the garden, but never stings you? “Praise the Lord!” Car starts (any car, one that is brand new and has never shown any signs of trouble)? “Praise the Lord!” Open a can of soda without it spraying all over everything? “Praise the Lord!” Successfully get the lid of the toothpaste back on the first try? “Praise the Lord!”
They were hardly the first family that did that, but it always had seemed a bit over the top. So, I mentioned them, and asked how it was any different than the song suggesting people thank god for the presents they were going to get on Christmas morning. I went further, and quoted Matthew 6:5, “And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men.” I suggested that his girlfriend’s family—and anyone who was constantly repeating “Praise the Lord!” at every little thing—were being like that: doing it because they wanted people to see them and know how devout they were. So, if he wasn’t objecting to that, he could hardly be justified getting wound up about a children’s Christmas song.
I should point out that I didn’t believe his girlfriend was some egotistical hypocrite. As it happens, I’d known her longer than he had. I’d even dated her, once. She was one of the sweetest people I had ever met. Still is, actually. But he was just so angry at Here Comes Santa Claus that I couldn’t help it. And I did think he was being hypocritical.
The real problem was, I think, that afternoon may have been the first time in his entire life he had heard Here Comes Santa Claus. At least in a setting where he could actually hear all the lyrics. I’d learned some time before that until he joined the touring choir and we started rehearsing our annual Christmas concert that he hadn’t been familiar with really any Christmas songs. His family wasn’t the type to own Christmas albums, or sing carols around the tree, and so on.
Another part was his family had never been religious, at all. He had been raised in a pretty anti-church home, in fact. He’d been converted to Christianity in junior high, after some incidents where he’d gotten into somewhat serious trouble at school. He always seemed to be trying to make up for his supposedly misspent youth. Given that at the time this conversation happened, he was 19 years old, he wasn’t exactly an old man looking back on decades of debauchery, but he could get that crusader’s gleam in his eye sometimes.
I’m sure that he believes that one of the reasons I’m a queer bound for hell now is because I listened to songs such as Here Comes Santa Claus without being offended. Whereas I still can’t wrap my head around how, with all of the pain, suffering, inequality, hunger, and war going on in the world, the things that people like him get most revved up with righteous fury about are Christmas song lyrics or nativity scenes on public property or whether someone says “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays.”
As silly as it is, I really think this Christmas carol is a lot closer to the true meaning of Christmas than those war on Christmas screeds:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)