Christmas music II: Our Santa is a living Santa
One day, [Sufi mystic Rabia Basri] was seen running through the streets of Basra carrying a torch in one hand and a bucket of water in the other. When asked what she was doing, she said,”I want to put out the fires of Hell, and burn down the rewards of Paradise. They block the way to God. I do not want to worship from fear of punishment or for the promise of reward, but simply for the love of God.”
Rabia Basri would have fucking hated Santa Claus.
“Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” (1864)
The earliest of the major Santa carols is my favorite musically, an oddly melancholy children’s plea . Though it’s mostly a list of toy demands, the narrator’s requests on behalf of friends makes it slightly less selfish than many real prayers by adults.
“Up on the House Top” (1860s?)
Historical accounts are sketchy, but if this is Benjamin Hanby’s followup to “Jolly”, he was definitely phoning it in. He replaces the Pachelbel’s Canon-inspired melody with some jingle-bells bullshit and dials up the materialism by adding specs to the toy list. The biggest flaw, though, is the baffling chorus: Ho ho ho/ Who wouldn’t go / Up on the housetop click click click / Down through the chimney with old St. Nick. The answer is everybody. In no tradition does anyone join Santa in the chimney. The rhetorical question fails, as does the song.
Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1934)
The worst part of this ransom note of a song isn’t the reminder to children that they are under 24-hour surveillance by a totalitarian mobster deity. It’s the ironic inclusion of “so be good for goodness sake”, reminding the adults in the room that there is no Good, only incentives to action, and many of those incentives are lies.
Here Comes Santa Claus (1947)
Finally, a cheerful little ditty about the magical benevolent demigod delivering toys to good little girls and boys (PLEASE MORE OF THIS RHYME IT’S JUST SO STRIKING). There’s nothing else to say; it’s just perfectly inoffensive. Until the last few lines: Peace on earth will come to all if we just follow the light / So let’s give thanks to the Lord above ’cause Santa Clause comes tonight.
It’s a trick “Where’s Waldo” shock email, except instead of a screaming monster photo it’s the fusion of all narratives into one impossible unreality.