Sad/lonely/ambivalent Christmas songs.

sad-gingerbread-man-7310140Andy Rooney once observed that it’s very unusual to not have a melancholy moment or two at Christmas. (He went on to add that no more than a moment or two is best.) There’s a mixture of feelings during even the happiest holidays, and our problems don’t grow wings and fly away just because it’s Christmas. It’s interesting that most sad, lonely, or ambivalent Christmas songs have to do with the profoundness of lost love. Most of these deal with being apart from those we love at holiday time, both current loved ones and spurned ones. But some are more existential. And curiously, some of them only reference the holidays peripherally; it’s be about the same as if they’d been written about, say, Flag Day.

“Sister Winter” by Sufjan Stevens. What better way to start out this list. A few years ago Sufjan released a five-CD set of Christmas standards and original songs he had previously recorded for friends. His purpose was to convey what he referred to as “that creepy Christmas feeling.” From his article, “Christmas Tube Socks”:

This pertains to that prolonged, numbing, out-of-body experience you often encounter after weeks consuming egg nog, mild chocolate candies, fruit salad, cranberry sauce, entertaining family and friends, attending Christmas mass, trailblazing superstores for discount appliances, regurgitating small talk to second cousins, deconstructing the rhyme schemes on holiday greeting cards, cutting out coupons, watching animated Christmas cartoons on TV, having an allergic reaction to pine cones, breaking out in hives, and spending New Years Day in the emergency room with everyone too hung over to visit you.

Sufjan gets it, he really does.

“Blue Christmas” by Elvis Presley and others. Impossible not to include this one here. Thankyuh, thankyuhverrrrmucccchhh.

“Christmas In Prison” by John Prine. The title says it all. “It’s Christmas in prison, there’ll be music tonight. I’ll probably get homesick – I love you – good night.”

“I’ll Be Home For Christmas” by several, but Sinatra owns this one. I never listened to the lyrics of this one till I moved halfway across the country a month before Christmas. It sure hit home for me then.

“First Christmas Away From Home” by Stan Rogers. Stan is legendary in Nova Scotia. The song tells three stories: a young man working his first job far from home, a young woman who left an abusive family, and a widower who recently moved into a nursing home. Impossible to not be moved by this song.

“Fairytale Of New York” by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. Christmas Eve in the drunk tank! “I’ve got a feeling this year’s for me and you. So happy Christmas, I love you baby – I can see a better time when all our dreams come true.” And even the Irish Tenors did a cover of this one.

“All I Ever Get For Christmas Is Blue” by Over The Rhine. “Strings of lights above the bed, curtains drawn and a glass of red; all I ever get for Christmas is blue. Saxophone on the radio, recorded forty years ago; all I ever get for Christmas is blue.” Hey Santa, does Prozac come in blue?!

“Circle Of Steel” by Gordon Lightfoot. “A time you know. Sights and sounds of the people goin’ ’round; everybody’s in step with the season.” Christmas isn’t a respite from despair for all of us, and Gordon manages to capture that.

“Please Come Home For Christmas” by Charles Brown. This version far exceeds the Eagles’ cover. Don Henley can’t sell it like Charles Brown. And, yes, I remember this one from “Home Alone.”

“Christmas Time Is Here” by The Vince Guaraldi Trio. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is quite morose for a beloved animated holiday special. Great soundtrack, but kind of a dirge-like theme song.

“If We Make It Through December” by Merle Haggard. More a winter song than a Christmas song, though dad wants to make a nice Christmas for the family. First came out in the winter of 1973-74 when gas prices “shot through the roof” for the first time ever. Yeah, they rocketed above $1 a gallon. Even so, the sentiments age well.

“A Long December” by Counting Crows. Not technically a Christmas song, but “there’s reason to believe, maybe, this year will be better than the last” is something most people can relate to between the mistletoe and eggnog.

“2000 Miles” by The Pretenders. Great song, but Christmas is only incidental to the tale.

“The River” by Joni Mitchell.  She crushed some guy’s heart at Christmas. Has a sad about it, apparently. Hope she got a lump of reindeer poop in her stocking. C’mon, Santa, bros before hoes.

“Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” by Tom Waits. The title says it all.  Christmas is only incidental to this story, except for the backstory Tom opens it with about an arrest on a cold Minneapolis day. And how nice of Tom to commemorate our fair city in this way.

”Pretty Paper” by Willie Nelson, also by Roy Orbison.  Willie wrote it back in 1963 for Roy, who had a hit with it. Willie re-recorded it himself some 16 years later. “Crowded street, busy feet hustle by him. Downtown shoppers, Christmas is nigh. There he sits all alone on the sidewalk, hoping that you won’t pass him by.”

“Another Auld Lang Syne” by Dan Fogelberg. This one was nominated by fellow WordPresser dramaqueen1913. “Heaven forbid if you’re already single, alone, and lonely for Christmas: hide the knives and the sleeping pills for this song.”

“It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way” by Jim Croce. Jim died in a plane crash in late September of 1973. He had just released an album, and this song was rushed out as a Christmas single. Christmas is only incidental to the song, just like “2000 Miles”, but radio stations only seem to play it at Christmas.

“Hard Candy Christmas” by Dolly Parton. From the musical “The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas.” Same as the above: it really doesn’t have much of anything to do with Christmas. (Except that in the South, a family would occasionally be able to splurge on a bag of hard candy which was a joyous holiday treat for the kiddos.) But radio only plays it at Christmas. And it’s a huge buzzkill.

“An Old Christmas Card”, recorded by many but the one by Jim Reeves is the one I grew up with. Another one from my childhood. “Pardon me if a tear falls among my Christmas cheer.” Man, I listened to depressing music as a kid. Amazing that I grew up as happy-go-lucky as I am. (/sarcasm)

5 Comments on “Sad/lonely/ambivalent Christmas songs.”

  1. You can add to that list “Same Auld Lang Syne” by Dan Fogelberg. I always wondered why radio stations started playing it before Christmas (and then having REALLY listened to it, wondered how three little words in the title qualify it as a New Year’s song) and this is the first year I heard him mention Christmas Eve as the day all this is happening. Heaven forbid if you’re already single and alone/lonely for Christmas–hide the knives and the sleeping pills for this song.

    There’s another one that has a line in the chorus about Santa going straight to the ghetto, but I’ll have to research title and artist.

  2. scottmac56 says:

    Oh yeah, I remember that one. Definitely a drive-off-the-bridge song. I was a huge Dan Fogelberg fan before,,, well, before he turned into Dan Fogelberg.

    Another one your comment reminded me of is “Circle Of Steel” by Gordon Lightfoot.

  3. […] Sad/Lonely/Ambivalent Christmas Songs […]

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