#238 – Unjust Christmas Songs
At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Christ who described his mission as this:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Jesus came to bring peace and justice; he came to set things right. Some Christmas songs reflect this truth. “O Holy Night” contains this line:
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
But there are a lot more Christmas songs that reflect injustice and even encourage us to participate in those activities.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Everyone loves the story of Rudolph. He was invented for a Montgomery Ward coloring book and has since become as traditional as Santa Claus. Very early on, through the story of Rudolph, children learn that life isn’t fair.
All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names.
They never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games.
What games do reindeer play? I imagine all the reindeer standing out in the snow picking teams for dodge ball and poor Rudolph just standing there until the end, both captains fighting over who would have to have Red-Nose on their team.
Rudolph was singled out because of a birth defect. He was born with a red nose and there was nothing he could do about it. But, instead of hiding it or begging his parents to get him rhinoplasty, Rudolph embraced his nose and it eventually led him to greatness. Life isn’t fair but if you work hard and have an exploitable physical deformity, good things can happen.
I really like “Winter Wonderland” because it’s the closest thing I’ve ever had to living in an actual winter wonderland in southern California. I also like the song more now that I’m married because I have someone with whom to conspire by the fire. There is a peculiar line in the song, though, that exemplifies the unjust nature of life, even during the Christmas season.
In the meadow we can build a snowman,
And pretend that he’s a circus clown.
We’ll have lots of fun with mister snowman,
Until the other kiddies knock him down!
What the crap? Who are these rogue children running through this alleged wonderland knocking down snowmen? Snowmen take a lot of effort: snow has to be piled, carrots have to be acquired, buttons have to be removed from clothing. But, after all of that hard work, some punk kids from the neighborhood come and knock Mr. Snowman down. In the punk kids’ defense, clowns are creepy and deserve any abuse they get
The 12 Days of Christmas
There is no more annoying song than “The 12 Days of Christmas”. It’s an unending song that children enjoy singing with the sole purpose of tormenting adults. It also highlights the gross extravagance of the Christmas season. This person receives 78 Christmas presents from his or her true love. I love my wife but she’s not getting 78 Christmas presents. Not only are there extravagant gifts like golden rings and exotic birds, but there are people involved in this transaction. “O Holy Night” has lyrics about chains being broken. “The 12 Days of Christmas” celebrates human trafficking and giving someone the gift of drummers, pipers, lords, ladies and maids. And I don’t even want to think about the conditions for all those people wrapped and placed beneath the tree.
Jesus did come to break chains, release the oppressed and set things right. That work began with his birth and continues today through his followers. Even when we celebrate his birth, though, it’s good to have reminders of what exactly he’s setting right. So every time we sing about an ostracized red-nosed reindeer, a prematurely destroyed snowman or enslaved pipers and maids, we can thank Jesus for his birth and the way he is rebuilding and recreating this world.
What other hidden meanings can you find in your favorite Christmas carols?