Whether you get your Christmas music from a streaming service such as Spotify or iHeartRadio; a satellite provider (I’m digging the Sirius/XM Holly channel as I type these words); or a terrestrial radio station, you will undoubtedly hear famous “Christmas” songs that aren’t actually about Christmas. Whether they mention winter, mention Christmas but aren’t about Christmas, or whether some programming manager somewhere thought they sounded Christmas-y enough, these are the songs that get radio airplay during the Christmas season, but really aren’t about Christmas.
“Jingle Bells,” “Sleigh Ride,” “Winter Wonderland,” several others
What You Think They’re About: Enjoying the outdoors at Christmas!
What They’re Actually About: Enjoying the outdoors in the winter.
Listen to “Sleigh Ride,” “Jingle Bells,” and “Winter Wonderland.” Do any of them say the word “Christmas,” or mention the birth of Jesus, or holidays at all? Nope, not one of them does. The closest we come is “Sleigh Ride,” which mentions a birthday party, but that’s it. Nevertheless, Christmas is a winter holiday (unless you live in Australia), and the Christmas zeitgeist these days includes snow, carriage rides, and such, so for a century or so, American pop culture has just sort of agreed that these are Christmas songs.
“Baby It’s Cold Outside”
What You Think It’s About: A man and a woman wrapping up a date during the Christmas season.
What It’s Actually About: Date rape.
Well, “date rape” may be putting things a little strongly. But if you pay close attention to the lyrics, it’s painfully obvious that the male vocalist is trying valiantly to keep his date at home, despite her protestations. And he also attempts to ply her with liquor.
“But maybe just a half a drink more (put some records on while I pour)”
… later followed by the female vocalist’s response
“Say what’s in this drink?”
The song treats the scene with a wink and a nod, but it’s clear the male vocalist is hoping to break off a little sumpin’ sumpin’ with the female vocalist, first by sweet-talking her, and then by trying to get her liquored up.
“Hard Candy Christmas”
What You Think It’s About: A “Hard Candy Christmas,” whatever the heck that’s supposed to mean.
What It’s Actually About: Losing your job.
This song comes from the since-forgotten Broadway musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, which will undoubtedly make for an awkward conversation with your little ones, should any of them ever ask about where this song came from. In the musical, a crusading preacher gets a whorehouse shut down, putting several women out of work and wondering what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives. The song is simply a meditation about how the women are going to move from the phase of their lives that included working together at the whorehouse, to what they’re going to do now.
“My Favorite Things”
What You Think It’s About: Christmas presents!
What It’s Actually About: Overcoming your fears.
This song comes from The Sound of Music, and it occurs not long after Maria has moved in with the Von Trapp family. During a thunderstorm, the children get scared, and Maria sings to them about her favorite things to help them calm down. The song doesn’t mention Christmas at all (although winter and presents get a nod).
“We Need A Little Christmas”
What You Think It’s About: Why Christmas is so joyful!
What It’s Actually About: Being broke and depressed.
Another “Christmas” song to come from a Broadway musical, this time Mame, the song enters the story as free-wheeling socialite Mame has lost her fortune due to the Great Depression. Broke and hungry, Mame and her nephew decide to decorate for Christmas even though it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, in order to lighten their moods.
— Jaime (@coljaime) September 12, 2016
What You Think It’s About: God, or something?
What It’s Actually About: Generic, feel-good platitudes.
For a moving operatic ballad with lyrics in English and Italian (and when Charlotte hits that high note at 2:49 – wowzers!), this song has rather humble origins: it appeared on the soundtrack for 1998’s animated film, The Quest for Camelot, which you can probably find the dollar-DVD bin at Target. Two years later, Celine Dion put her version of the song – a duet with Italian opera star Andrea Bocelli – on her Christmas album, and for better or for worse, it became a holiday hit. By the way, I embedded the Charlotte Church/Josh Groban version for this post because it’s ten zillion times better.
Regardless of its provenance, “The Prayer” is not at about Christmas. It mentions neither Jesus Christ, nor God, nor anything Christmas, cultural or religious. If it’s about anything, it’s about treating your neighbor as your brother, living a life of kindness, that sort of thing.
OK, so maybe “The Prayer” really is a Christmas song, even though it wasn’t meant to be.
What are some other “Christmas” songs you hear on the radio that aren’t really about Christmas? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
[Featured Image by Billion Photos/Shutterstock]