As a gay kid growing up in a very conservative and uptight denomination, I understand why a lot of people dislike Christmas music. I understand that what some people hear when those songs play is, “You must conform to this belief system that has oppressed you, or else!” Seriously, some sacred music provokes memories of very bad experiences for me, too, so I get it.
My particular idiosyncrasy is that traditional religious Christmas songs just don’t register that way for me. I can sing “O, Come All Ye Faithful” in more than one language (my Latin’s a bit rusty, but…). I love singing along to “Angels We Have Heard on High” because when I do it bring back memories the many Christmas concerts where I either sang it or played in the orchestra. In my head, I’m singing the tenor, and bass, and alto part (and wishing I could still hit all the notes for the soprano), as well as playing the trumpet and baritone horn parts.
So, while I understand intellectually that those particular Christmas songs are sacred hymns, to me they’re just part of the “Ho! Ho! Ho!” extravaganza. Yes, “O, Holy Night” brings tears to my eyes, but is the wonder I used to experience every night when I lived in tiny towns in the Central Rocky Mountains, where we could walk outside, look up, and see the entire Milky Way, not being washed out by the lights of a city. Which is the same sense of wonder I used to get when I was a very small child laying on the floor in our living room with the Christmas tree lights providing most of the light in the room. It’s why sometimes during this time of the year, my husband will come out of the computer room and find me sitting in the darkened living room, staring at the Christmas tree.I think part of the reason is because music was a part of the holiday season for as long as I can remember. Every year Mom would pick up at least one or two new Christmas albums. For a good part of the 1960s every November would signal the arrival of such albums at gas stations and other place that you wouldn’t expect. You could get a whole vinyl album full of song recorded by various people (some names quite famous, others not) for practically nothing when you filled up your gas tank, or made some other purchase. Those made up a rather large part of our collection.
Dad mostly tolerated the music. The only album that I know he actually liked was Elvis’ Christmas Album, because Dad was a bit Elvis fan.
Anyway, while we sang some of the sacred Christmas hymns in church, and some of those Christmas concerts I performed in over the years were at churches or with religious groups, I spent a whole lot more time singing and listening to Christmas music at home. Where “Up on the House Top” or “Sleigh Ride” or “Silver Bells” or “All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth” or “Snoopy’s Christmas” or “I Wanna Hippopotamus for Christmas” was just as likely to come up as any of the religious songs.
My current iTunes library contains 13.9gigabytes of Christmas music. That’s 2,657 songs which would take about 5¼ days of continuous playing to get through the lot. Which I know is totally bonkers. And the fact that there are Christmas albums still on my wish list that I haven’t acquired, yet, is even more mind-boggling for some.
Then there are albums that aren’t actually on my wishlist, but I wouldn’t mind adding to the collection if I could. I was reminded of some of this this weekend when Mom texted me about find a box of cassette tapes of Christmas music, including some that are kind of my fault. Twenty-two years ago (the first Christmas after Ray died) I spent several days visiting Mom for Christmas, but because Mom was still working in retail at the time, that meant for several of those days I was hanging out at her place by myself.
It just so happened that she had recently found in the back of a closet a box full of old vinyl Christmas albums, including a bunch that—so far as I can tell—have never been re-issued on CD or digital. I went out and bought a bunch of cassette tapes and spent one day recording all my favorites onto cassette. I made two copies of each—one for me and one for Mom (because she liked to listen to music in her car). After I showed her the first day’s work, she asked me to transfer several more.
I wish I could say that, when I had the chance a few years later, I transferred those recordings to compact disc. I’m not sure why I didn’t. But I’m glad to know that Mom still has hers (though I suspect the quality may have degraded a bit by now, and I have no idea the quality of the player she’s listening to them on).
I’m not obsessed with finding those old odd albums. I just wouldn’t mind if I happened to find one had been issued at least once in a more modern format. Just because listening to an old recording that you used to hear often is kind of like running into an old friend you haven’t seen in years, and sharing stories and laughs about things you did together a long time ago.
It’s another sense of wonder, like looking at a twinkling Christmas tree in the dark and remembering the bright starlit skies of yore.
“Is it just me or is the reason that Earth Kitt’s original version of ‘Santa Baby’ is better than all the rest (other than the fact that Eartha Kitt is inimitable) the fact that Eartha was actually singing to a sugar daddy that was was playfully calling ‘Santa’ and was dead serious about all the thing she was asking for (…and Micahel Buble was really trying to sing to Santa).”
“Wait. Do people genuinely think that Santa Baby is about Santa??? I’ve known that it was about a sugar daddy since I was like 11.”
“Michael Buble doesn’t know what a sugar daddy is and that’s the flaw that will finally kill him.”
“Bold of OP (original poster) to assume Eartha Kitt had not, in fact, landed Santa Claus as her sugar daddy.”
I had planned to keep a streak of posting every day through my vacation, and I had several other topics I meant to write about today. But I reached the point last night with this cold where I can’t think very clearly, and naps keep attacking me, but I’m not sleeping well since last evening because I keep having coughing fits that wake me up.
While transferring some content from my various Tumblrs to other platforms, I’ve also been scrolling through to see what remains there, and this particular post really cracked me up last night.
At a fairly early age I understood that Eartha was singing to her sugar daddy, but I also was absolutely certain that the real Santa was, indeed, the her boyfriend who came with financial benefits.
As I got older, I realized that it was a little… odd, that some of the same people (in church and so forth) who railed on about the crumbling morals of the nation and so forth, also thought that this was a funny song.
Eartha Kitt – Santa Baby:
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I don’t need to justify why I think a particular song is a Christmas song. As a matter of fact, you can’t justify such a thing, because we aren’t really talking about thinking here, but rather feeling. And no matter how much logic you pile up, that doesn’t change the way another person feels.
Just as an example: the exact same logical case that certain other people are making that a specific song isn’t a Christmas song applies to “Jingle Bells.” Seriously. “Jingle Bells” doesn’t mention the manger, nor the angels, nor the shepherds. Absolutely nothing in the lyrics at all about the arrival of Jesus, so not a religious Christmas song, clearly. There is also no mention of Christmas, nor a Christmas tree, nor holly, no mistletoe, not even chestnuts roasting on a fire. Yes, it mentions snow, and a sleigh is mentioned a lot of times, and then there’s all those jingling bells. But first, it’s a one horse open sleigh, not a reindeer drawn sleigh. Snow doesn’t just happen at Christmas. Bells were put on sleighs and carriages and the horses that pulled them at night and particularly in winter time as a precaution to avoid collisions in dark intersections.
In fact, the original author of the song back in 1822, wrote it as a party song. We’re so used to children singing the song that we don’t notice how racy the song is. A couple being out in a one horse sleigh meant no chaperone, after all, and that means all sorts of naughty things could occur. The word jingle, by the way, is meant to be a verb, not an adjective. Jingle those bells, because you’re driving fast! And there’s also some innuendo that.
And then there’s that line “He got into a drifted bank And then we got upsot.” Most people assume it’s away to make “upset” as in overturned or fallen over, to rhyme with lot. Not so fast! The word appears in a number of 18th and 19th Century songs, where it does seem to refer to something fallen over and such, but not just fallen, but in fallen in a drunken manner. Yes, other uses of the word seem to be referring to a more stumbling and raucous situation amplified by the liberal application of alcohol.
So not only isn’t “Jingle Bells” not a Christmas song, it’s not a wholesome children’s song either.
Except, of course, that for most of its history, Christmas hasn’t been a wholesome children’s holiday either. There are reasons the puritans banned the celebration of Christmas entirely in the old Massachusetts colony, and not because Christmas trees were pagan symbols. In point of fact the decorated evergreen tree wasn’t associated with Christmas in English-speaking countries at the time of the Puritans. But untangling the tree’s origin is way more complicated than I want to be here.
But, everybody knows that “Jingle Bells” is a Christmas song. And I think a case could be made that other Christmas songs mention sleigh rides and jingling bells at least as much because the modern celebration of Christmas appropriated “Jingle Bells” in the 1860s as the fact that those things are associated with winter.
I’m a Christmas music addict. And yes, there are some Christmas songs that I absolutely hate. I have walked out of people’s houses when certain songs come up. So I understand that someone can have strong negative feelings about a song or a movie. Let me like my songs and movies, and I’ll let you like yours.
And if you happen to stop by my place, I will offer you some eggnog. With the rum and brandy if you like, or without. Let’s just all have a cheery, jingly, non-judgmental holiday!
Khruangbin – Christmas Time Is Here:
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Big Freedia – Make It Jingle:
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I don’t think I realized that Williams was the host of a weekly musical variety show until he changed networks in the late sixties. As far as I know, our family never watched his show except for the one Christmas-themed episode each year. There were a lot of variety shows on network TV back then, and there were several that we watched faithfully every week. I’m not sure why Andy’s wasn’t one.
And the Andy Williams Christmas shows were hardly the only Christmas-themed specials and musical programs we watched every year. I know I loved watching all of them. When I was about 10 or so one of my cousins went on a bit of a rant of what a freak I was because I liked watching specials—why would anyone want to watch people sing, for instance? But I realize the Andy William’s specials stuck out in my head precisely because we had the albums, which included some of his own original songs (“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “A Song and the Christmas Tree”), so I could listen to them until I’d learned the lyrics, but also learned a lot of the harmony and counter-melodies and other vocal flourishes. So when those particular production numbers came up on screen, I could follow along.
I understand, now, why the cousin (and other relatives) thought I was a freak. I was the kind of boy who danced and sang along with the big theatrical production numbers in movies and on variety shows. I thought nothing of behaving that way in front of the family television. Which was quite entertaining for my adult relatives when I was a cute four-year-old, but much more disturbing as I got older.
When I got my own record player so I could listen to music in my bedroom, the Christmas season was when I’d close the door and imagine that I was the star of my own musical variety show, with the elaborate sets and costumes and the large groups of dancers and singers backing me up. I was worse than that. With careful use of a portable cassette recorder, the big stereo in the living room (when I was home alone), and some of those studio musician instrumental-only Christmas albums, I recorded my own Christmas shows. Not just me singing along with the instrumental albums, but then playing that recording over the stereo then with the recorder and a second (and third, and sometimes fourth) tape, recording myself singing the harmony parts along with myself.
Freak might have been putting it mildly.
I watched Williams’ faithfully into my teens. Even the really disastrously bad one that involved the cast (along with special guests Captain Kangaroo and Gomez Addams) are transported to Rock Land and Doll Land and I don’t remember where all else in a strange attempt at an original Christmas fable that made no sense…
When Williams’ weekly series ended, he signed a deal with the network to produce three or four seasonal specials a year, and one of those each year was a Christmas special.
Williams’ work weren’t the only Christmas albums I sang along with. And they aren’t the only old albums of that vintage that I’ve since tracked down and added to the insane amount of Christmas music that resides on my computers and phone. But even now when I find newer recordings by modern singers and bands that I like, I find myself imagining those songs performed on a stage in the style of one of the Williams’ Christmas episodes, with the costumes, sets, fake snow, and multi-camera coverage.
And sometimes, especially if I’m listening during the long walk home each night from the office, you may still catch me at least doing jazz hands while I sing along. Might as well make a production out if it, right?
We both agreed that Maria and the little bird from “The Gift” (this is the song that ends with the line, “As her offering was lifted to heaven
By the very first nightingale’s song”) or the poor little boy in “The Christmas Shoes” don’t fall into this category. I even argued that the Little Drummer Boy shouldn’t be included. Frosty and Rudolph are anthropomophized—non-human characters given human-like traits, or at least a human-like story line. Whereas the bird in “The Gift” never does anything that a real bird wouldn’t do.
And characters that were originally created in other media who happen to have subsequently been given a song when someone decided to try to make a television special or direct-to-video show about the character shouldn’t count, either. So as wonderful as The Grinch is (and how could he not be, having been created by Dr. Seuss?), he shouldn’t be offered as an example of a Rudolph competitor. And while Jack Frost appears in a couple of songs, (“Jack Frost nipping at your nose,” and “Little Jack Frost Get Lost”) he first was mentioned in poems back in the late 1700s, and often as simply an allusion to the cold rather than a full-blown personification.
Once you listen these other songs, it’s not much of a surprise why they’ve never caught on. For instance, “Chrissy the Christmas Mouse” has no story. I mean, “Frosty the Snowman” doesn’t have much of a plot, but compared to Chrissy, it’s practically Crime and Punishment! Chrissy is a mouse, who lives in Santa’s house, and she wants to go with Santa on Christmas Eve. So Santa asks Mrs. Claus if Chrissy has done her chores, and Mrs. Clause says “yes,” and Chrissy goes.
“The Little Blue Bell” has a plot, sort of. There’s this little blue bell in a church steeple, right? Except the little blue bell can’t ring. No matter what, it’s silent. How can it be a bell if it can’t right? And why is it still up in the steeple if it is broken? So the song tells us over the course of three verses, that the blue bell is sad up in that steeple every Christmas Eve because it can’t right. If I were a bell that couldn’t ring, it would seem to be that it would bother me more than just one night a year, right? Anyway, in the final verse, an angel appears and tells the bell it’s there to dry its tears. And then the angel does some angel-y magic, and transforms the bell into pure gold, and now the bell can ring. And the bell is so proud! And that’s the song.
So apparently the reason the bell couldn’t ring was because blue metal is somehow silent? What’s the moral? Suffer long enough but otherwise do nothing and an angel might come and transform you into a different race or whatever (what else is the blue can’t ring, but gold rings beautifully supposed to be a metaphor of?)? It’s just weird.
Not that Rudolph is much better. As I pointed out last week, it can persuasively be argued that Rudolph’s moral is that nonconformity will be punish until it can be exploited. Not exactly uplifting.
Of course, if you think too hard about the story line of just about any song out there it can be pretty crazy making.
So maybe I should stick to characters like Scrooge and leave the songs to songwriters.
I much prefer some of the earlier pieces written on the topic: 2013’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: A Gay Christmas Allegory, for instance. Or 2012’s Coming Out In Christmastown. Then there’s 2011’s I’ll Never See Rudolph the Same Way Again Less involved is 2005’s Is Hermy Gay? Sixteen serious questions raised by the 1964 holiday classic Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. In Michael Salvatore’s novel Between Boyfriends there is an entire chapter in which his protagonist talks about recognizing at age 6 the gayness of Hermy and Rudolph (and specifically that he was like them).
I even wrote something about it once. I thought I had published it on my Sans Fig Leaf page, but a search of my old archives proved it was even longer ago than that. It must have been when I blogged on Geocities, which means it was sometime before April, 1998! And it also means I don’t have a copy of it any longer. Which might be a good thing.One of the reasons I don’t think of Hermy and other aspects of the 1964 Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer as subtext is because every time my family watched it during my childhood, Dad would make jokes about the “fag elf.” In addition to the annual repeat of crude comments about Rudolph and Clarice when the narrator refers to Rudolph having grown up, at least one year he wondered aloud about the relationship between the “fag elf” and Yukon Cornelius in rather graphic terms.
I was four years old when the Rankin-Bass special first aired on NBC TV. I don’t have specific memories of that first broadcast, but because a few years later I have very distinct memories of being dismayed that one song and scene which I have very clear memories of weren’t in the show, I know that I had to have watched the original broadcast. In the original broadcast, Santa is never shown going to the Island of Misfit toys to deliver them to children. A scene showing that was added in 1965. They made room for it by replacing Rudolph and Hermy’s “We’re a Couple of Misfits” musical number with a shorter song, “Fame and Fortune” and by removing a scene at the end where Yukon Cornelius discovers a peppermint mine. Over the years other changes were made to the original show, including a re-edited and shortened version of “We’re a Couple of Misfits” being added back in. And other techniques to make room for more commercials resulted in the music that remained sometimes sounding warbling and distorted.
But to get back to the subtext question: I think you would have to be extremely naÏve not to recognize Hermy, at least, as gay. Certainly my dad thought it was obvious!
Years later, someone asked Arthur Rankin, Jr, whether there was a gay message to Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, and he denied it. However, while Rankin and Bass ran the studio and were intimately involved in directing and producing the many shows their company made over the years, the actual scripts were almost always the work of Romeo Muller, a gay Jewish man from the Bronx. Mullee, along with artist Jack Davis, and actors Paul Frees and Paul Kligman are usually credited with the many Jewish allusions and subtexts that are obvious in other Rankin-Bass Christmas specials, such as Santa Claus is Coming to Town (the Burgomeister Meisterburger had toys burnt in a town square in a scene that looks a lot like footage of historical Nazi book burnings, and his guards all wear actual Prussian uniforms, for goodness sake; and don’t tell me that the Winter Wizard isn’t supposed to sound like someone’s Jewish grandfather!) or The Little Drummer Boy. So it doesn’t seem that big of a stretch to imagine that Muller wrote Hermy as gay.
In 1964 and for a few decades before that, movies, television shows, and plays often featured a stock character referred to now as The Sissy. The Sissy was a closeted predecessor of the Sassy Gay Friend. Some people argue that Hermy is just another instance of the Sissy, but there’s one problem with that interpretation. The Sissy was never a hero or the sort of supporting character with his own subplot. He might be a friend and ally of the hero or the heroine (much more often the heroine), but he was merely there to deliver jokes or be the butt of jokes. Meanwhile, I think what made Hermy worthy of commentary by my dad (while he almost never made comments about the archetypical Sissy in other shows) is that Hermy in not comic relief. Hermy has his own subplot. He doesn’t just help Rudolph find acceptance, he realizes his dream. He escapes societal expectations of being a toymaker and becomes a dentist.
You can argue that this is just a parallel to Rudolph’s journey from ostracized freak to valued leader of Santa’s team of flying reindeer, but they wouldn’t have had to give Hermy those Paul Lynde speech patterns, bright pink lips, and that very twink-like swoosh of blond hair (when the only other elves who have hair are definitely women) to do that. Hermy was an obvious, if closeted, queer character. And instead of being the butt of other characters’ jokes, he was the secondary lead. He’s the one who defeats the Abominable Snowman, after all!
I won’t get into all the reasons that the actual villains of this story are Santa, Donner, and Comet. Other people have covered that pretty well. Just as many have argued that the lesson of this special (and the 1949 song, and the 1939 book) is that deviation from the norm will be punished unless it is exploitable. Yeah, there are some problematic aspects to a lot of these old stories.
I still love this version, though, and not the least of the reasons is because the “fag elf” gets a happy ending.
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:
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