The Greatest Christmas Song
Thanks to my sister Heather for this. Father Christmas by The Kinks has always been one of my favorite songs period, Christmas or otherwise, and this is a pretty terrific article.
Tis the season for holiday music that intrudes, annoys, and entraps. Like a zombie, “Feliz Navidad” dies every year only to return — everywhere. On the car radio, in the mall, on hold, at your kid’s school (provided they omit the holiday’s first syllable) you can’t escape Christmas music.
The radio staples are as amorphous as they are ubiquitous. The Pogues offer a Christmas anthem for St. Patrick’s Day in “A Fairytale of New York.” Greg Lake’s “I Believe in Father Christmas” hits the ears as a Yuletide hymn for atheists. And for the densely populated left end of the bell curve, there’s “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.” A few Christmas songs for Christians remain, too.
Making a song about Christmas is a good way to get a bad song on heavy rotation. There are too many dreadful recordings about the joyous day to narrow the worst of the worst compositions down below a hundred. The best ones (“White Christmas,” “Silent Night,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”) can be counted on an eight-beaded abacus. My favorite is a blunt rock tune that dispenses with the trite musical markers, e.g., a platoon of trumpets or a cherubic choir announcing His arrival, that so unsubtly scream: Christmas song!
The number that most embodies the spirit of the season depicts a violent robbery of Santa Claus. Thirty-five Christmases ago, The Kinks released “Father Christmas,” a gritty tale about a department-store Santa getting rolled by a gang of teenagers. “Father Christmas, give us some money/We got no time for your silly toys/We’ll beat you up if you don’t hand it over/Give all the toys to the little rich boys.”
It’s a 45 with a sense of humor. It also has a sense of the Beatitudes.
If upon first listen “Father Christmas” rings as cynicism inverting the spirit of giving into one of taking, subsequent spins reveal a track telling us to give thanks for our good fortune rather than the small fortune under the tree. A hoodlum instructs St. Nick to hold off on the Bionic Man costume for his brother and the cuddly doll for his sister. “But give my daddy a job cause he needs one/He’s got lots of mouths to feed.”
“Father Christmas” invites us to be more Christ like. An ode superficially about the ultimate expression of materialism (theft) becomes a spiritual admonition to remember the least among us. Empathy with other people’s troubles occasionally minimizes their troubles. It always minimizes our own. Christmas is a good time to count blessings rather than money.