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It’s beginning to sound a lot like…

It’s December tomorrow. How did that happen?

If you’ve set one toe inside a retail outlet in the last little while, you’ll know it’s already started: The Attack of the Christmas Playlists. Mariah Carey reminding us on a loop that she doesn’t want a lot for Christmas. Michael Bublé’s attempts to make Jingle Bells sound sexy. Alvin and the Chipmunks begging for a hula hoop.

There’s a reason I leave my Christmas shopping to the last minute – I prefer my eardrums unassaulted by saccharine odes to commercialism.

Forgive me, Wairarapa. I used to work in retail.

I am, however, not a complete Scrooge. In celebration of the approaching silly season [and to give y’all a break from politics], have some fun facts about Christmas music.

The first Christmas songs in English appeared in a 1426 book called “Caroles of Christmas” – likely sung by groups travelling from house to house, offering a song and mulled cider in exchange for gifts.

The Victorian era ushered in some of the best-known anthems: Silent Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem, and We Three Kings. Having grown up Anglican, I do have a soft spot for the classics: Nothing like some thundering organ music and boy sopranos hitting highs Ariana Grande can only dream of. I’m no longer religious – but there’s something about King’s College choir’s rendition of O Holy Night that brings a lump to the throat.

The Depression era brought in the secular hits – ironically, many of which [Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and White Christmas, for example] were penned by Jewish songwriters. “White Christmas”, made famous by Bing Crosby, remains the best-selling single of all time. It was covered by Elvis in 1957 – which writer Irving Berlin despised, launching a campaign to get the record taken off the airwaves.

Also courting controversy was I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, which was banned across several platforms – and 13-year-old singer Jimmy Boyd had to appeal to the Catholic Church to get the ban lifted. The church, of course, objected to “the link between sex and a religious holiday”.

The 1960s brought one of my least favourites [sorry, kids]: Snoopy’s Christmas by The Royal Guardsmen. Funnily enough, though the song is depressingly popular in New Zealand, it failed to chart anywhere else. Back in 1967, Snoopy’s Christmas was the most successful single EMI Records New Zealand had produced. Executive Bruce Ward was baffled: “New Zealand has strange taste in music.”

Some of the more cringe-inducing numbers arrived in the 1980s, including Do They Know It’s Christmas?, a charity single for famine-ravaged Ethiopia. Which music journalist Amanda Yeo called “the white saviour complex set to music”. Given Ethiopia is one of the oldest Christian nations, I’d say they do know it’s Christmas.

There are some gems, however. My favourite has to be Fairytale of New York by The Pogues – which Stuff’s Kelly Bertrand declared to be “The greatest Christmas song of all time”. A drunken, bitter and oddly hopeful love story set to Irish folk – perfection. Bertrand said it best: “It’s raw and real. Christmas is chaotic, emotions are frayed, and we have to face our true selves and reflect on the year that was. No wonder alcohol sales shoot through the roof.”

If you haven’t guessed, I’m not a Christmas fan. But, for me, the song that best sums up the season is Tim Minchin’s White Wine In The Sun. Like Minchin, I have “all of the usual objections” to consumerism and religious toxicity – but you can’t beat spending time with those who “make you feel safe in this world”. That’s how I plan to spend the holiday.

Happy almost Christmas, Wairarapa. To quote my favourite Christmas song: “I’ve got a feeling this year’s for me and you.”

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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