When my sister and I were young, we were always very discerning Christmas tree shoppers. We would pore over every tree available, dissecting the good and bad sides of each, wondering how our angel would fit on top or if our stand would accommodate the trunk. It was a lengthy, meticulous process made all the longer by at least one or two breaks to run amongst the trees playing hide and seek.
Now that I am a tree seller, I find that I prefer these discerning sorts of customers. I don't trust those who choose the first tree they see. I question their motives. After all, buying a Christmas tree is supposed to be a fun experience and it should be savored and enjoyed. Selecting a tree quickly implies that the whole experience is some sort of seasonal obligation; a chore to be completed after picking up the dry cleaning and before stopping by the grocery store to buy milk. If this is how you feel about buying a Christmas tree, then why even bother? Perhaps your time would be better spent orchestrating a hostile takeover of the Bailey Building and Loan or tying antlers to your dog's head while plotting to pillage Whoville.
I very much enjoy interacting with those customers who must appraise every tree we have to offer. My three years in the toilet business gave me a certain selling acumen that I try to apply in my new job. I read the customer and always try to reinforce his own feelings about a particular tree. If he seems to like the tree at first glance, I will praise its conical shape or the uniform density of the branches. If he does not like what he sees, I will agree that it seems a little sparse on one side or point out the crooked top. When a customer loves the first tree that we come upon, I love it too, but will insist that he view at least two more. I will then show him less than perfect specimens and when he inevitably chooses the first tree, I will praise his precise tree evaluating abilities and remark that this must not be his first time. When a customer looks at several trees but has not yet found one that he likes, I will pull a particularly heavy tree out of the excess stock, make a great show of lugging it forward, and then unbind it in front of him and fluff out the branches. Since he is the first and only person to have seen this tree, he will usually buy it and be secure in the knowledge that because of his shrewd buying habits, he got a special tree that a less discerning buyer never would've even known existed.
All in all, my main goal is to pass along some of that youthful excitement that my sister and I enjoyed so much when we were kids buying trees. I try to make the Christmas tree buying experience a memorable one; to make it feel good, both for the customer and myself. But truth be told, the tree game is not all chestnuts and figgy pudding. There is a lot of hard manual labor involved. Unloading giant flatbed trucks full of trees, mounting them for display, and tying them to cars all make for a pretty serious arm and back workout, especially throughout an 8 hour shift. I have been getting through it fine, subsisting mostly on Red Bull and whatever they put in the meatballs at Subway, but I tend to be quite tired when I get home and sore the next morning.
And then there's the Christmas music. All day, every day, nonstop, Christmas music. Traditionally, I have been a fan, even going so far as to play the converted radio stations in my very own car. But this year, I have been ludicrously overexposed. When you listen to the same songs played continuously on a loop over a few weeks, they start to become a part of you. It is unshakable, ever present background noise in your head. Inevitably, you start to dissect the lyrics and I have found that a lot of these Christmas songs have some pretty dark lyrics and themes that do not necessarily fit in with the spirit of the season.
Take I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus for example. During the memorable bridge of the definitive Jackson 5* version, Micheal exclaims, "I did! I did see mommy kissing Santa Claus! And I'm gonna tell my daddy!" I can only imagine the horror a child must feel watching his mother engage in an act of marital infidelity with the previously unassailable, morally pure figure of Santa Claus. And on Christmas, no less! The only course of action is to then reveal to the child that the Santa Claus his mommy is kissing is in fact the child's father, thus shifting his feelings of disillusionment from learning the fallibility of a parent to the stark, sobering realization that Santa Claus is not real and the entire yearly spectacle has been a sham from day one. Merry Christmas, indeed.
Or consider Santa Baby, a song that is downright inappropriate with its repeated requests for Santa to "hurry down the chimney" and "fill my stocking," two thinly veiled sexual references not worthy of a middle school boy's bathroom wall. Not to mention the lascivious tone in which the song is traditionally sung by the sexpot of the moment (marilyn, eartha, madonna, et al). Additionally, the song contains some of the crassest of crass consumer culture in the gift demands it makes, going so far as to request the deed to a platinum mine and a duplex.
But for the acme of creepy sexuality, one need look no further than Baby, It's Cold Outside. The song is comprised of a back and forth between a male and female speaker with the man trying to convince the woman to stay at his house rather than leave out into the cold. Despite over 25 protestations, the man continues to plead for the woman to stay, all the while attempting to ply the woman with alcohol a la Christopher Walken in The Continental. At one point in time, the woman even goes so far as to ask, "Say, what's in this drink?" Throughout it all, male lead only responds by maniacally repeating the phrase, "Baby, it's cold outside" over and over again. I can only imagine the icy, determined look in his eye as he circles his prey. One can be sure that should this woman ever actually make her way out of this man's house, a call to the local authorities and a restraining order are sure to follow.
Of course, sex and materialism aren't the only prurient themes one will find in Christmas music. Frosty the Snowman is a bone-chilling tale of an anthropomorphic snowman who spends his days cavorting with the local children. Unfortunately, not a single moment of fun goes unsullied by the specter of Frosty's impending demise. The inevitable changing of temperature at the end of winter will cause Frosty's body to melt in what I can only imagine is an unbearably agonizing death. He tries to assuage the children's fears at the end of the song by assuring that he "will be back again someday," but this promise rings as hollow as his corncob pipe.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is also less than encouraging. After deriding him his entire life on account of a birth defect, the other reindeer let Rudolph into their society not because of his personality or character, but because that same physical deformity has become professionally expedient for them. Rudolph, in a heartbreaking act of social desperation, agrees to be part of the team, thus acquiescing to being the star of the other reindeer's freak show rather than attempting to find another social group who will appreciate him for him.
Desperation is a common theme among Christmas carols. We Wish You a Merry Christmas's begging for food becomes sinister when the carolers threaten not to leave until they are sated. Blue Christmas's speaker would be better off getting out of the house and meeting new people rather than wallowing in the self pity he feels over being heartbroken. Even Joy to the World seems a little overeager in its extreme happiness at the appearance of a savior. Things must have been pretty miserable before he arrived to write a song like that. Similarly, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas's speaker is hoping against hope that the holiday season will bring an end to all of his problems ("from now on, our troubles will be out of sight") and wants desperately to be together with all of his loved ones but knows it will only happen "if the fates allow." This is of course to say nothing of the harrowing original lyrics to the song.
For my part, I am thankful that my favorite Christmas song is not on the rotation down at the tree lot. Dan Fogelberg's bittersweet tale of youthful love and what might have been, Same Auld Lang Syne, will hopefully remain untarnished throughout the remainder of my Christmases. I hope all of you have a merry Christmas this year, and to that end, next time you hear Christmas music, perhaps it's best that you not listen to the lyrics. They're a little weird.
Programming Note: My annual year-end wrap up will appear on Monday, December 21st. Get excited.
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* The Jackson 5 Christmas Album is quite possibly the greatest Christmas album of all time. It is at least in the discussion along with Manheim Steamroller's Christmas 1984, Johnny Mathis' Merry Christmas, and Burl Ives' The Very Best of Burl Ives Christmas.