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The Worst Christmas Song Ever

It’s time for Christmas music! Some love it, some hate it. I mostly like it. But no matter what our preferences, every year starting around Thanksgiving (and now even as early as Halloween – oh, the humanity!) we are bound to hear Christmas and holiday music playing non-stop at least until New Year’s Day (and […]

Photo of Elvis Santa with white guitar

It’s time for Christmas music!

Some love it, some hate it. I mostly like it. But no matter what our preferences, every year starting around Thanksgiving (and now even as early as Halloween – oh, the humanity!) we are bound to hear Christmas and holiday music playing non-stop at least until New Year’s Day (and sometimes longer). So no matter where we go, for approximately a month and a half every year, we’re bound to experience Christmas music in one form or another.

Good Songs

On the good side of Christmas music, we might hear Bing Crosby on an AM radio promising “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” a claymationized Burl Ives wishing us a “Holly Jolly Christmas,” Ray Charles telling us that “The Spirit of Christmas” should last all year while Clark Griswold rediscovers old family films, Sarah McLachlan tenderly crooning a gorgeous “Silent Night,” or The Peanuts gang singing the melancholy perennial favorite “Christmas Time Is Here” by Vince Gauraldi.

And I have to admit I’m a sucker for Mariah Carey explaining (in no less than 12 octaves) that “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” I almost believe her. I bet you do too.

Bad Songs

But on the nefarious side of Christmas music, we have to suffer through double-time punk rock versions of “Jingle Bells,” terribly over-jazzed renditions of “Santa Baby,” the latest winner of a pop/idol/reality show butchering “O Holy Night,” college choirs covering the panic-inducing “Carol Of The Bells,” and Kevin McCallister lip-syncing The Drifters’ version of “White Christmas” into a hairbrush.

Countless bad Christmas songs have been hastily fluffed like whipped cream to make albums that are then pumped into the public airspace in hopes of swiping up a bit of Joe Consumer’s annual Christmas music budget. Without taking an official census, I’d say there are probably 20+ bad Christmas songs for every good one. In short, there are a lot of bad Christmas songs. The Christmas music naysayers really have some solid exhibits and evidence in their favor.

The Worst Song

In my mind only one Christmas song can claim to be the worst Christmas song ever. I award that prize to “The Christmas Shoes.” You’ve heard it, I’m sure. It’s the sappy tear-jerker about the poor little boy that wants to buy some shoes for his dying mother on Christmas Eve and it’s the epitome of awful. Sadly, it’s been made into a novel (what?!) and a movie that I’m sure Rob Lowe considers a low point in his career. Here are the lyrics and a video just in case you need a refresher.

The Christmas Shoes

It was almost Christmas time, there I stood in another line,
Tryin’ to buy that last gift or two, not really in the Christmas mood.
Standing right in front of me was a little boy waiting anxiously,
Pacing ’round like little boys do
And in his hands he held a pair of shoes.

His clothes were worn and old,
He was dirty from head to toe,
And when it came his time to pay,
I couldn’t believe what I heard him say,

“Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my Mama, please.
It’s Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size.
Could you hurry, sir? Daddy says there’s not much time.
You see she’s been sick for quite a while,
And I know these shoes would make her smile,
And I want her to look beautiful
if Mama meets Jesus tonight.”

He counted pennies for what seemed like years,
Then the cashier said, “Son, there’s not enough here.”
He searched his pockets frantically,
Then he turned and he looked at me.
He said, “Mama made Christmas good at our house,
Though most years she just did without.
Tell me, sir, what am I going to do?
Somehow I’ve got to buy her these Christmas shoes.”

So I laid the money down,
I just had to help him out
I’ll never forget the look on his face when he said,
“Mama’s gonna look so great.”

“Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my Mama, please.
It’s Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size.
Could you hurry, sir? Daddy says there’s not much time.
You see she’s been sick for quite a while,
And I know these shoes would make her smile,
And I want her to look beautiful
if Mama meets Jesus tonight.”

I knew I’d caught a glimpse of heaven’s love
As he thanked me and ran out.
I knew that God had sent that little boy
To remind me just what Christmas is all about.

I know a lot of Christmas songs could qualify for the worst ever, but I think this one wins for several reasons. I could rant about this song for awhile (as some of my friends and family know quite well), so I’ll try to make this short and sweet.

Note: My intent is not to criticize the songwriters or anyone that genuinely likes this song. I simply want to point out the problems I detect in this song. I am doing so because the song is insanely popular despite what I believe to be very obvious logical and theological flaws. I know lots of other Christmas songs fail in many of the same respects, but this one stands out above the others because it often goes under the radar as “a good song to sing in church.” Passing off heresy and consumerism under the guise of a heart-warming ballad is quite wrong on so many levels.

Why “The Christmas Shoes” is the worst Christmas song ever

The Real Meaning of Christmas is Consumerism

Ah, the Christmas consumerism machine at it’s finest! Finally someone has found a way to not only condone our consumption that makes it seem like the “Christian” thing to do, but has also capitalized on the concept by writing a song about it that’ll “just get ’em every time.” This is the primary reason I hate this song, and honestly, it’s reason enough, but I have to continue.

NOTE TO SELF: If you are ever hard up for cash, remember this simple song equation:
Poor Young Child + Dying Parent + Sacred Holiday = Money Train

Shopping alone?

Why is a little boy shopping alone on Christmas Eve? Why didn’t anyone else in the song see a problem with this? Wouldn’t someone contact authorities?

Don’t miss the last moment!

If “there’s not much time” left for the woman, then why is the boy out buying shoes instead of spending time with his mother in her final moments? Priorities, son. Priorities.

Almost dead people have no need for shoes.

I know it seems harsh, but if his mother is close to dying from a terminal disease she simply does not need shoes. Maybe it’s the kind gesture or the thought that counts, but if she’s really that close to death, she probably would not be conscious enough to recognize a heart-warming deed from her son. Seriously.

Dead people have no need for shoes.

Caskets only open on the end where the head is, so no one besides the undertaker is going to see mama in her beautiful new shoes. That’s gonna be a real let down. And if she’s cremated, well… you might as well just burn your money.

You don’t take it with you.

Umm… I thought we were all clear on that. For this being a “Christian” song, it sure seems like some pyramid-era theology is slipping in there. I don’t know what heaven will be like, but if I had to speculate about footwear, I’m pretty sure that whatever we wear in heaven (if we even need any shoes) will be far superior to whatever mass-produced-by-slave-labor kicks the boy could’ve purchased with some change at the local big box store.

Does Jesus care about shoes?

The boy’s concern is that his mama look beautiful when she meets Jesus. I’m not sure where the boy is getting his information about who Jesus is and what he wants from us. Jesus is not Tim Gunn and heaven is not Project Runway. Mama will not be voted out of heaven based on her footwear. If so, those atrocious Crocs you just bought mama will not be winning her any style points.

Picture of Christmas Crocs footwear

‘This worries me. Make it work.’ – a quote by Jesus or Tim Gunn, I can’t remember who said it.

Adults Messing Up

Congratulations, to the adults in this story (the father, the cashier, and the narrator of the song). Instead of being wise and using this difficult time as a teaching moment, you helped an already poor kid waste his last few coins on useless shoes and let him convince you that his well-meaning, but half-baked plan is in fact the true meaning of Christmas. But the shame doesn’t rest solely upon the fake characters of this trite story, we the consumers actually bought this song and are continuing to buy it every year! Please, for the sake of future generations, stop supporting this song.

These are just a few of the reasons why I believe this song is the worst Christmas song ever, but don’t let me convince you. Judge for yourself.

Buy Shoes for Christmas

Graphic: Shop To Stop Slavery logo If you actually are in the market to buy shoes for someone for Christmas and you want to do more than just buy shoes, check out ShopToStopSlavery.com. My friend Robin researches products that are fair trade and slavery free. You can visit her site to find quality resources and good places to shop. That’s a gift that keeps on giving, Clark.

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Jesus & George Carlin

On the morning of August 29th, I (along with the help of fellow musician Katie Nelson) played music for the good people of Lakewood Baptist Church in Lakewood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. We set up outdoors on their east lawn as part of their final al fresco service of the summer. The weather was […]

On the morning of August 29th, I (along with the help of fellow musician Katie Nelson) played music for the good people of Lakewood Baptist Church in Lakewood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. We set up outdoors on their east lawn as part of their final al fresco service of the summer. The weather was perfect (I was able to remain the shade the entire time) and we sang and played well, which from my perspective made the entire experience enjoyable.

During the portions of the service in which Katie and I were not playing, we sat off to the side of the makeshift stage area with our backs against the stone wall of the church. As we listened to various readings and other musicians playing, we noticed a young man walking by on the sidewalk, mere feet from the congregants in attendance that morning. As he passed, I noticed (amongst other things) a paperback conspicuously poking out of the back pocket of his jeans – a tell tale sign of belonging to a particular faction of the now burgeoning hipster scene. I leaned over to ask Katie if she had noticed this small detail. She replied with the even more insightful observation she had made; that as this young man had passed, he had swiftly, and without losing step, swiped a pen from a table sitting next to the sidewalk. Though he did this in full view of the entire congregation, no one seemed to notice.

“The audacity!” I exclaimed in my head. “How dare he? Stealing! …and from a church! …and in front of so many people! What gall!” Inside I could feel my well-developed sense of justice rising up. I contemplated hurrying after him to correct this problem, but decided the scene would cause too much distraction since I was sitting in front of everyone. Instead, I quietly sat there and worked through a logical progression of thoughts.

  1. Calm down. It’s just a pen. No big deal.
  2. But it’s the principle of it all! Stealing is wrong.
  3. Maybe he has nothing. I hope he stole because he needed it, not just because he wanted it.
  4. How ironic though that he would steal from a group that would have given it to him had he simply asked. If he really needed a pen, anyone of us would have handed him a large supply of pens without reservation.
  5. Why would he steal from a church? There must be more to the story. Maybe this was a small statement of his perspective. Maybe he thinks that the church steals from people (a common and sometimes justified belief) and that he was simply playing his part as Robin Hood in this sad story.

The plot thickened in my imagination. “Oh well. Let it go,” I thought as I attempted to refocus my mind on the morning’s service and it’s over-arching themes of orphanhood, abandonment and adoption. (Apropos topics in hind sight.) Still, as I tried to engage myself completely, my mind wandered back to the possibilities of the young man’s motives.

A quote came to mind that I had read just a few days prior. The late comedian George Carlin once said:

I would never want to be a member of a group whose symbol was a guy nailed to two pieces of wood.

I mulled over that quote, weighing its humorous pithiness, poignancy, and pride against its subtext of angst, antagonism, and atheism. Knowing that all comedy is rooted in tragedy, I wondered of the origins of this one-liner. How had it been given birth via the life of its author? What were the “causes” of this “effect?” What did Carlin experience to arrive at a belief like this? Was this young thief on the streets of Cleveland living out a similar experience?

Again, I thought, “Oh well” and pushed the subject from my mind. The service finished with three songs performed by Katie and me, followed by a pizza lunch on the lawn. With the almost-noon sun moving over head, the shade was disappearing quickly, so as most everyone ate pizza and chatted with each other, I hurried to wrap cables and box up equipment. While I worked, a friend was kind enough to reserve an entire pizza for me. After packing away all the gear, I sat down again in the shade of the stone church to eat a few slices, when suddenly I noticed the young thief coming down the sidewalk again. This time with his shirt off and skateboard under his arm.

I was surprised to see him return, but remembered that oft repeated maxim: “A criminal always returns to the scene of the crime.” For whatever reason, the young man had returned and immediately I thought I should offer him some pizza, but Katie jumped first. “Nice shoes!” she yelled to him. He stopped and looked to see who had complimented his bright blues and yellow kicks, then he approached us. “Thanks. They’re pretty fresh aren’t they? My mom gave them to me.” We talked about shoes for a little bit, then I offered him a slice of pizza. He declined when he found out it had pepperoni on it. “He might be a vegetarian,” I deduced. I wished that I had something that fit his diet, but all I had was a pizza that generously had been given to me. Katie offered him some gluten-free cheese ravioli she had brought along. He accepted with a manner of indirect thank you accompanied by earnest looks and head nods saying, “Yeah, it’s all about generosity.”

Unfortunately, after a few sentences I was pulled into another conversation with some other folks, but I kept my ear perked on the conversation that continued between Katie and the young thief. He expressed his belief that “everyone should share together,” but that “the world and everybody just wants money.” His take on the local farmer’s market (an incredible market, which has some of the most affordable produce I’ve ever seen) was that the marketers are “just trying to take people’s money” and that “people should share food or offer food at a modest prices.” He talked about music, books, people, and church all with the same skeptical-about-everything-but-we-got-to-share-and-one-love-is-it-man sort of view. The irony of his thievery just moments earlier was not lost on me. I could tell that he had some deeply rooted anger, a very suspect anti-capitalist worldview, and plenty of sophomoric pride in his reading list.

As he turned to leave, he jabbed at Katie, “Nose rings aren’t very churchy.” Katie responded with honest sentiments about her experience with churches, describing religious people, the Jesus she knew, and the difference between the two. When Katie said, “I really love Jesus,” the young man agreed that he really liked Jesus too and added, “He is in my top ten people of all time.” Katie asked who else made it onto his top ten people list. He reiterated Jesus and mentioned a few authors before tagging on George Carlin to finished the list. I nearly laughed out loud. I wanted to point out, “That’s like saying your favorite books are Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and Mein Campf.” I could’ve drawn a Venn diagram to show him the concept of mutual exclusivity, but recognized that rationality was not the impetus at work. He was a wounded boy striking back at a world that had brought him pain.

Graphic of Venn Diagram showing Jesus Christ and George Carlin as mutually exclusive subsets of a Top Ten People list

A Mutually Exclusive Venn Diagram

I dug deeper, “Where are you from?” He launched into a story about being born in Virginia, moving to Ohio at a young age, being drug to Detroit by his ex-minister mother chasing after “love for her boyfriend or whatever that whole thing is.” He returned to Cleveland when his girlfriend parted ways with him. Now he’s sleeping on a couch at the boarding house where his mother is staying. Katie saw that he was carrying a portable CD player and asked him if he wanted some CDs. “Sure! I love music,” he said. “I’ll probably just burn the tracks and then sell the CDs ’cause I need the money, you know. I gotta survive.” Katie gave him two of her albums as well as two of mine. He expressed his gratitude to us again with another obscure type of thank you and then left.

We spent much of that afternoon walking around town with some good friends. As we popped in and out of little shops, cafes, and novelty stores, the odd events of that morning came up in our discussion. We verbally processed the theft and subsequent conversation that took place, touching on the possible roots of such problems before moving on to lighter topics like “Which shop should we go to next?,” “Do we need to feed the meter?,” and “What do you want for dinner?” Towards the end of the day we found ourselves walking along the path of a local park just in time to catch the reddish-orange sun slowly sinking into Lake Erie. We paused for a moment to enjoy the scene before deciding it’s best to head “home” before dark in an unfamiliar town.

The path out of the park took us directly past a skate park. I scanned the crowd of young guys skating there wondering if the young man we had met earlier was among the dozens enjoying this extremely nice skate park, one of the many perks paid for by the hard work of the local “capitalist pigs.” I didn’t spot him, so we continued on. Just as we reached the street, I was surprised to see our friend the thief making a last second dash through the busy intersection to beat traffic. Since he had not seen us yet and knowing that he probably gets hassled a lot for skating, I jokingly yelled to him, “No running!” He turned to see who was reprimanding him this time and smiled when he recognized us.

“Hey! I listened to your CDs and that’s some really good stuff,” he immediately offered. “I liked them a lot. I burned them and took them down to the exchange already ’cause I need the money. Gotta survive. They only gave me two bucks though for all four of them ’cause they said that you weren’t popular.” Though severely lacking tact, I had to admire his honesty. Most musicians might run away crying after such a frank assessment, but we grinned and said, “That’s fine man. We’re not really famous, so it’s not a surprise.”

He then offered his assessment of the music: “It just goes to show that God helps those who help themselves.” I’m sure I gave him a funny look when he said that, because I’m not really sure how he arrived at that conclusion. How could anyone boil down four albums of songs to such a singular and contrary thought? (But then again, how could Carlin boil down the entire discussion of Christianity to logo choice?) I concluded that either our young friend did not actually listen, or though he did listen, he was so wounded that he could not hear. Then again, maybe what happened was a phenomenon similar to what the Beastie Boys experienced with their song “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!).” A tongue-in-cheek satire of frat boy meatheadiness became the anthem of meatheaded frat boys everywhere.

Make of it what you will.