Five Christmas Lyrics That Have Not Stood the Test of Time

My love for Christmas music is widely known and well documented. But there are some lyrics that need to be retired. A short list of lines that just don’t translate:

5. presents on the tree — “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”

I guess this is a bygone tradition, to hang presents on the tree branches? Glad this custom died; with three little kids, we have a hard enough time with strategic ornament placement: breakable ones out of reach, repositioning them slightly when the kids put five or six on one branch. Adding presents would put us over the edge. Plus, I’m thinking the Kinect for Xbox is going to make O Tannenbaum come crashing to the floor.

4. ox and ass before him bow — “Good Christian Friends Rejoice”

The offending word appears in many Christmas carols, and you’ve gotta sympathize with authors looking for a single-syllable solution to “donkey.” While this time of year does seem to bring the asses out of the woodwork, it’s just not worth the snicker factor in worship.

3. “Do They Know It’s Christmas”

Props to the British rockers for inaugurating the era of big-budget benefit songs, but… dear me, where to start. Having Sting sing the line about the “bitter sting of tears”… giving Bono the God line even though its theology is reprehensible (thank God it’s them instead of you)… the culturally absurd assumption that Africa is deprived of a proper Christmas because it lacks snow

You know what? Let’s just say the whole song.

2. snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow — “In the Bleak Midwinter”

Christina Rosetti’s poem is much loved, and after Snowpocalypse, I get what she’s going for here. But let’s face it, this line is the one you suffer through in order to get to the luminous final verse. And bless the hearts of the one or two people in the congregation who get the rhythm wrong. (I knew I loved Tiny Church when each and every person nailed it.)

1. say, what’s in this drink? — “Baby It’s Cold Outside”

Ah, nothing like a little GHB overtone to ramp up the creep factor. I kinda like several versions of this song, but we just don’t live in this world anymore.


C’mon, cringes are more fun when they’re shared. What would you add?


14 thoughts on “Five Christmas Lyrics That Have Not Stood the Test of Time

  1. katherine says:

    Thank you for speaking the truth. I think Do They Know It’s Christmas is the worst offender.

  2. Ally says:

    I’m not too fond of resetting christmas carols – heard “O Come O Come Emmanuel” sung to “The Water is Wide” the other day from the youth choir – lovely arrangement except for the fact that its just so disturbing

  3. Matthew says:

    Is Handel’s Messiah more Easter or Christmas? There’s a piece in that called “For We, Like Sheep” which carries on a different meaning when the comma isn’t vocalized.

  4. Kerri says:

    I giggled a bit yesterday when we sang “snow on snow” as I watched it do just that!

  5. Kelly says:

    Did you see the Kurt/Blaine version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” on Glee last week? I much prefer it to the new (I think) Dolly/Kenny version.

  6. Kelly says:

    Oh, and they don’t know it’s Christmas because they’re Muslim!!! Geez.

  7. Ally says:

    actually its “all we, like sheep? is it not? which kind of turns into “are we like sheep?” which is somewhat a valid question except for the follow “have gone astray-ay-ay-ay” (and now I’ll have it stuck in my head)

  8. Erica says:

    “the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes”…fully human baby who doesn’t cry? I think not!!! Although I love the hymn itself.

    I also get annoyed with pastors and planners who ask soloists to sing O Holy Night without recognizing that this song is not always within a singer’s range. I think you should always talk out what they ENJOY singing with a soloist.

    But my biggest Christmas music peeve? Worship services that are so completely focussed on choir music and soloists that the congregation sings maybe two songs.

  9. Ally says:

    LOL regarding O Holy Night – mostly because its my favorite and about the only one I have a good arrangement for, so I’m always wanting to do it – but generally there’s always a concern over if anyone else is already planning for it as well…

  10. prespreacher says:

    Excellent post! I agree with all of these except for “Do They Know It’s Christmas” I’ve read in a book about U2 that Bono’s line is meant to expose our misconstrued views and bad theology about the poor, i.e. how many Christians often say, “I’m thankful this isn’t happening to me” or “I pray to God we never starve” or “The suffering in Africa makes me thankful for my blessings.”

    Going back over the lyrics, I’m not sure the whole song is not tongue-and-cheek and song that is convicting of our own misconceptions. It offers up several shallow sentiments–“(Here’s to you) raise a glass for everyone”– which I think are unfortunately representative of people’s attitudes toward Africa, at least in the 80s when the song was written.

    At the end is a very concrete command…”feed the world, feed the world” which is in contrast to the beginning of the song about spreading a smile and a hug around the world.

    • MaryAnn says:

      I don’t know… I think this is a stretch.

      I remember Band Aid quite well—I was 12 when it came out and I was very into all those bands, so I followed it pretty closely. There was not a whiff of irony in the performances, the concerts, or the press surrounding the project. Bob Geldof was incredibly earnest, as I recall. I also think that things were a lot less multilayered in 1984 than they are now. What you saw was what you got.

      If they’re going to for “subtle convicting of our attitudes,” well they were way too subtle, so as to be ineffective, IMO.

      My own view is that this was a well intentioned effort that may have even done some good, but it was a product of its time, including paternalistic attitudes toward Africa that unfortunately persist today—though folks like Bono have grown up a lot.

      I should also say that, ignoring the lyrics, I like it as a song more than USA for Africa’s “We Are the World,” which came out the following year.

  11. Erin Sikes says:

    I do love “In the Bleak Midwinter”, even the literary device of piling snow on snow on snow. Shawn Colvin’s version is one of my faves.

    A lyric that hasn’t aged well: “There’ll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, and caroling out in the snow, there’ll be scary ghost stories…” Ummmm…Roasting marshmallows? Chestnuts, maybe, But Marshmallows? And scary ghost stories? This sounds like a song about summer camp.

    Also questionable are many of the twelve days of Christmas. Days eight through twelve are particularly vexing.

  12. Andy Acton says:

    Good points on Don’t They Know It’s Christmas…You’re not the only one who hates it, Bob Geldoff does too, LOL

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