Most Christmas songs we’ve known for so long, we hardly know them at all. It does not strike us as odd, perhaps, to run around the house shrieking “Fa la la la la la,” although if we were to take a moment to think about exactly what it is we’re singing, we may go ahead and turn ourselves in for a brief examination. Here are twelve such carols. Some of them are downright bad. Some of them are actually OK. But all contain at least one line of questionable sanity …
This holiday classic is pretty fun for the first couple of verses, but as you listen further, the ride on the “one horse open sleigh” turns into a wintertime nightmare. First, the rider and the unfortunate “Miss Fannie Bright” get stuck in a snowbank, as the icy joyride turns into a worst-case-scenario: “Miss Fannie Bright / Seated by my side / The horse was lean and lank/ Misfortune seemed his lot / He got into a drifted bank / And we got upsot.” We’re not sure what “upsot” means, but it can’t be good. Then, the poor songwriter, slips on the ice and hurts his back, only to have passers-by laugh and leave him injured in the snow. “I went out on the snow / And on my back I fell / A gent was riding by / In a one-horse open sleigh / He laughed a there I sprawling lie / But quickly drove away.” Umm, Merry Christmas?
“12 Days of Christmas”
The writer’s “true love” may have had good intentions, but it seems like receiving 184 birds (counting up all the days) would be grounds for breaking up.
“Santa Claus is Coming to Town”
The Jackson 5’s exuberant take on this song is almost enough to make you ignore the fact that this song is one, big, noisy Yuletide threat to children, in which Santa comes across like an Eye of Sauron or, more appropriately, the NSA. “Be good for goodness’ sake” carries an ominous, unspoken “or else.” This singer knows something we don’t.
“Baby It’s Cold Outside”
Basically the “Blurred Lines” of Christmas carols.
“Up On the Housetop”
Apparently, whoever wrote this was more concerned about rhyming than making sense. “Ho ho ho. Who wouldn’t go?” Doesn’t explain where everyone is supposedly willing to go—on the housetop? Through the chimney? Along with Santa? And it’s unclear whether the “click click click” St. Nick makes come from a loud watch, a camera or chimney-sliding-induced arthritis. The rest of the song is spent describing the gifts Santa fills stockings with, which include tacks and a whip. Just the things every child needs.
“Do You Hear What I Hear?”
If you think the night wind and a little lamb are talking to you, chances are you’re the only one hearing what you’re hearing.
“We Wish You a Merry Christmas”
This classic carol starts off happily enough—it’s a group of carolers wishing everyone a merry Christmas. Aww! Then they suddenly get demanding: “Bring us some figgy pudding.” What is this strange desert and why carolers would expect us to give it to them? Then it turns into an angry mob, as their true motives are revealed: “We won’t go until we get some!”
“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”
Whoever wrote this song needed a few pointers on the actual definition of “rocking.” See also: “Jingle Bell Rock.”
An unfortunate attempt to blend the season’s childlike wonder with its inherent romance.
“Carol of the Bells”
The lyrics to this dramatic carol are relatively tame. The head-scratching part is how a song that sounds like it should be played at the terrifying climax of a horror movie became a Christmas classic.
“O Christmas Tree”
So, this guy was really into his Christmas tree: “Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree, Such pleasure do you bring me! (yeah, OK, it’s nice to look at, we guess) … Brings to us all both joy and glee (sure, joy and glee, we can see that)… A symbol of goodwill and love (Listen, you know it’s just a tree right?)… No one alive spreads cheer so well (Honestly? No one alive?).
“Little Drummer Boy”
When this Christmas staple is actually using words, it’s a pretty touching carol. But it’s hard to take any song seriously when the performer is singing “pa rum pum pum pum” for 80 percent of the lines.