Top 10 Cynical Christmas Songs

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Every December (or more often, late November) radio listeners are bombarded with themes of merriment, prosperity, and togetherness, written about in traditional holiday music. It’s uplifting for the easily uplifted, but a joyless purgatory for those who dread the upcoming holiday season, a frostbitten limbo we’re forced to endure until the Christmas tree has dried up. Here’s a list of musicians who feel the same way.

10. Barenaked Ladies feat. Michael Buble: Elf’s Lament

Sung from the point of view of overworked and under-appreciated elves, this song lulls the listener in with a jaunty rhythm and some brightly harmonized lyrics about vague Christmas sentiments. But upon repeated listens, it becomes much too easy to see the parallels between our sprightly (albeit dissatisfied) protagonists and the working conditions of real-world laborers who painstakingly toil over our Christmas gifts, many of which will be tossed in a closet to collect dust until next winter. Even Michael Buble, a cheerful crooner and all-around nice guy, can’t take the sting out of lyrics like “a full indentured servitude can reflect on one’s attitude.” So when picking out which toy to give your bratty child this year, please “consider the price to an elf.”

9. Fall Out Boy: Yule Shoot Your Eye Out

If you’re looking for a cynical Christmas song, it’s a safe bet to assume you’re not going to find a better source than emo-punk practitioners. Fall Out Boy delivers some typical fare about broken hearts and overdramatic threats, but does so with a hint of cheer, rallying behind hopes that this Christmas will be a good one. They’ve moved on from this failed relationship and can now spend a full 24 hours watching A Christmas Story. So there’s that.

8. Fountains of Wayne: The Man in the Santa Suit

It’s no doubt that kids love going to the mall to sit on Santa’s lap, but it clearly takes an extraordinarily patient and dedicated man to put up with all the unprovoked tantrums, putrid smells, and occasional spit-ups that those children can bring. With that in mind, Fountains of Wayne ask us to empathize with the guys who have to look “jolly and hairy” all year round just to don the red suit in December, but also realize that it’s a job like any other and these guys are mostly “doing it just for the loot.”

7. Billy Idol: Yellin’ at the Xmas Tree

If anyone knows the pitfalls of an all-night drunken spree, it’s probably Billy Idol. But here Idol lays off the bottle long enough to sing about his father’s binging the night before Christmas. He laments how his dad “had too much Jack” to hear the carolers singing, or even to notice that his wife went to bed with a bearded man who recently dropped down their chimney. As the title implies, he’s more concerned with screaming at a decorative pine tree.

6. Fitz & the Tantrums: Santa Stole My Lady

Christmas is the time of year to give, sure, but it can also be a season for thievery. Namely, stealing someone else’s woman. This story tells the tale of Santa’s infidelities, shedding some light on exactly what it is he does the one night a year when Mrs. Claus isn’t around. Of course, this isn’t the only song that explains how adulterous the fat man can be (I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus let us in on the secret years ago), but it might be the most depressing. How can you not feel bad for lead singer Michael Fitzpatrick when he sings “I woke up to my woman kissing Santa, not me” before advising others “not to be fooled” by those nice fairy tales they’ve heard, lest they too end up all alone on Christmas.

5. Ben Folds: Bizarre Christmas Incident

Expletives abound in this funky tune about St. Nick getting stuck in an unwitting homeowner’s chimney and burning to death. Not something you’re likely to hear your neighbors caroling on your front door, unless you live in a very strange and terrifying neighborhood. The possibility of a lawsuit seems of greater concern to Folds than the fact that Santa Claus has just been roasted over an open fire: a true testament to how little he cares for this holiday.

4. Blink-182: I Won’t Be Coming Home for Christmas

Like most Blink-182 songs, this one is a bouncy, pseudo-punk jam, chocked full of insults and sophomoric euphemisms. The difference is that, this time, it has some bells ringing in the background. Still, it’s hard not to admire their honesty, particularly in the chorus:

“It’s Christmas time again
It’s time to be nice to the people you can’t stand all year
I’m growing tired of all this Christmas cheer
You people scare me
Please stay away from my home”

3. The Killers: Don’t Shoot Me Santa

Though there’s nothing about the instrumentation that would allude to this being a Christmas song (in fact, it wouldn’t sound out of place on their Sam’s Town album,) it makes sense that these Vegas boys would craft a carol that’s free of the bells and whistles of typical holiday standards. Besides, it would be hard to imagine sleigh bells backing the desperate pleas of a child begging for mercy from a man who’s supposed to deliver joy, not murder, on December 25th. The highlight of this weird tune? Brandon Flowers’ growling while he channels a menacing Santa Claus hellbent on “killing just for fun.”

2. John Denver: Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas)

Who knew that John Denver could be so cynical? Of all the examples of family drama on this list, none can touch the depressing heights reached when a 7-year-old begs his Dad not to stagger home drunk on Christmas. The worst part? He’s not doing it for himself, but because he can’t stand to see his Mama cry. Infused with his regular country twang, Denver invokes real heartbreak when recalling a previous incident in which his mother, anticipating a disappointing situation, begins to well with tears. It makes you wonder if Denver left out the part about his dad decking something other than the halls.

1. Sufjan Stevens: Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day? (Well, You Deserved It)

King of the quirky Christmas song, Sufjan Stevens has entire albums that could’ve been included in this list, but this track earns a special place for its somber depiction of a breakup during what’s supposed to be the most joyful holiday of the year. Stevens paints a picture so depressingly grim and accurate that it’s hard not to reflect on your own past relationships, and wonder how you’d deal if you’d endured a traumatic split on Christmas Day.

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Written By Jacob Trowbridge


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11 Comments

    • @ Graham. EXACTLY. I am a huge EL&P fan. I have seen them 3 times and were fantastic. But they are the Kings of pretention. “I Believe In Father Christmas” is actually a classical piece of music by the Russian Composer Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) entitled “Lt. Kije Suite”. I bet its safe to say that 20-25% of EL&P’s music is lifted from composers of Classical Music. Great Post you have made…….

  1. Wait no I was wrong….

    Happy Xmas (war is over) – John Lennon
    The Fairytale of New York – The Progues
    The Night Santa Went Crazy – Weird Al

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