Premature mirth

Published

Oisín Kealy

Burnt out pumpkins strewing the hall, an out-of-control bonfire across the street spewing smoke across Byres Road, people walking home at 8am dressed as Snap, Crackle and Pop — I don’t even need to leave my flat to see the signs: it’s Christmas. Halloween should really just be rebranded “Christmas launch night; with costumes and sweets!” Loudon Wainright sums up the interminable holiday season best in his song Suddenly It’s Christmas: “Dragging through the falling leaves in a one horse open sleigh / Suddenly it’s Christmas, seven weeks before the day“. I for one don’t mind. I mean, it is Santa’s birthday after all, like, hello?

More than this, for me, is the fact that I can now listen to Christmas music without judgement — not that this ever stops me in July. There is something about this period that provokes an intangible feeling of… somethingness, for better or worse; a kind of nostalgia for the present. It may not be happiness, for many of us it’s just a reminder of what we lack but, exploiting these sentimental connotations, a perfect Christmas song hitchhikes on this emotional melange to an elation or catharsis that may not have been otherwise achieved, but for the subtle employment of sleigh bells in the background.

The idea of Christmas alone often proves sufficent inspiration, a recent example of this being the cautiously hopeful, cynically joyous It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop by Glasgow’s own Frightened Rabbit, truly the finest example I can think of that fittingly encompasses the agony and ecstacy of the season. Low’s celebrated Just Like Christmas is a similar anthem of ambivalence, at once heart warming and alienating. Sexual tension is another winning theme, because there’s nothing sexier than a fat old man forcing his way into your house, apparently. Santa Baby is an obvious one, but Baby, It’s Cold Outside beats them all hands down. Nobody is knocking Cerys Matthews and Tom Jones, but theirs has none of the inviting warmth of Zooey Deschanel and Leon Redbone’s rendition for the movie Elf, not least because Redbone has the trombone-like voice that as a child I imagined Santa to have, and not least-er because Deschanel’s could deliver a terminal diagnosis and leave you smiling. When you just want to wallow, however, there is nothing like the lonely-on-the-holidays variety to melt the ice. The closing lines of Tom Waits’ Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis are a heavenly punch in the gut, especially when performed by Neko Case with only a cheap organ for company. Likewise, Joni Mitchell’s River subverts the strains of Jingle Bells to devastating effect, a frozen river of tears and no escape for the chronically alone.

This column is undoubtedly jumping the gun on the yuletide spirit, but that is exactly the point.These songs are too good to confine to just one month — never let the calendar stop you listening to great music.