Unspoken Meaning In Christmas Songs

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Merry Christmas everyone!

As is typical this time of year, I’ve been listening to a lot of Christmas music.  I love Christmas tunes, even though I don’t adhere to the religious background that inspired many of them.  I just think they’re fun, often catchy and a great way to gather family and friends in a happy spirit.  That said, I sense a ‘hidden meaning’ in two songs, in particular, that I feel I should address.

‘Santa Claus Is Coming to Town’, whilst a wonderful song about the excitement of the pending Big Day, also holds a subtler, darker message in these days.  When the original Glenn Greenwald, Ewan MacAskill and Laura Poitras Guardian story broke in June, the world did not realise the extent of the NSA spying programme.  Six months, later, we’re still gathering all the details and suffering the consequences.  So a song that includes the lines ‘He sees you when you’re sleeping/ He knows when you’re awake/ He knows if you’ve been bad or good’ takes on a different meaning.  Suddenly Santa becomes just one more cog in the big-NSA surveillance programme, this one aimed at children.  And the song teaches kids that sort of behaviour is okay, because the programme is in their best interest and making sure they’re good.  On the other hand, the song does say that people should ‘be good for goodness sake’; not just because they’re being watched.  There’s a Kantian moral imperative implicit in the song that acknowledges being good is its own reason for being good.  Whilst there definitely could be hidden meaning(s) in the song, though, I don’t think it was intended that way.  So I’m going to ignore the insidious nature of a few of the lines and instead keep listening to the song, including the one from Bruce Springsteen, perhaps my favourite version of it.

Another great Christmas song that, upon closer examination, causes some questions, is ‘Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer’.  In the most lighthearted sense, ‘Rudolph’ is about overcoming adversity and finding acceptance amongst peers.  On a different level, it’s about bullying.  This recent article from the journal Psychological Science, highlights the long-term effects bullying can have in adults.  As the article states, being ‘bullied is not a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up but throws a long shadow over affected children’s lives’.  So when ‘All of the other reindeer/ Used to laugh and call him names/ They never let poor Rudolph/ Join in any reindeer games’, Rudolph was indeed a victim of bullying.  He was outcast by his peers, subject to ridicule and not treated with any sort of respect.  If Santa hadn’t come along to ask for help, who knows the sort of life Rudolph would have descended into.  Maybe he would have developed an anxiety disorder, or suffered from depression, or had low self-esteem, as many recent studies suggest.  In some respects the song teaches kids that it is acceptable to bully others based on looks, whilst at the same time pointing out those same looks could be a benefit later.  Inadvertently, the song also acts as a mini theory of evolution and natural selection, so good job!  Again, despite the dark connotations, I will continue to listen to the song.  I’m particularly fond of this Dean Martin rendition, for some reason.

With that, I must go turn on more Christmas songs and enjoy a relaxing day.  Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good [day and] night!

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