5 Holiday Songs That Have Not Aged Well

by Sa'iyda Shabazz
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy and David Beale/Unsplash

The holiday season is yet again upon us, which means the annual onslaught of holiday songs. Many of the ones we hear the most have been around for a while. When you have songs that have been around for a long time, you realize maybe they aren’t as great as they once were. Much like a lot of other pop culture, there are holiday songs that are now considered problematic due to their content.

There aren’t many, but of the ones there are, the issues are usually glaring. These are five of the most obviously problematic holiday songs.

1. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”

“Baby It’s Cold Outside” has become one of the most controversial holiday songs in the last five years or so. When it comes to this song, you either fall into one of two camps: You either love it, or you hate it. Those who fall into the “love it” camp tend to look at it through the lens of when the song was made. Back in the 1940s, women couldn’t openly enjoy the company of a man in a sexual nature. So they believe the song is just back and forth sexual banter.

People who hate it believe the song perpetuates rape culture. Their point is reinforced by the male vocalist’s constant coaxing, and the woman asking, “Say, what’s in this drink?” It certainly doesn’t pass today’s standard of consent. Depending on the version, you can see the point they’re making.

As a way to give the song a needed facelift, singer John Legend recorded a new version for a re-release of his album, A Legendary Christmas. Sung with his fellow Voice judge Kelly Clarkson, the new lyrics were written by Natasha Rothwell and she manages to keep the spirit of the song, making it modern and fun.

2. “Do They Know It’s Christmas”

“Do They Know It’s Christmas” is one of the most privileged holiday songs out there. It’s a prime example of white people trying to prove their “wokeness” and failing epically. Written by musician and philanthropist Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, it was meant to bring attention to the Ethiopian famine from 1983-1985. So they formed Band Aid — a supergroup of mostly English and Irish musicians, including members of U2, Duran Duran, and Culture Club plus George Michael and Phil Collins — to raise awareness and money for those affected. While charity songs are not inherently bad, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” is straight up harmful.

Holiday songs shouldn’t perpetuate ignorant stereotypes, but this does. Lyrics like, “There’s a world outside your window, and it’s a world of dread and fear. Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears,” completely undermine everything wonderful about Africa. Even the title is harmful — of course, they know it’s Christmas. Because of English colonization, parts of Africa are Christian and celebrate Christmas too. And the line “tonight, thank god it’s them instead of you” is totally lacking in empathy.

In the 35 years since the song was initially recorded, there have been three re-releases, including an updated version in 2014 for the 30th anniversary, focusing on the Ebola crisis. Somehow, that one is even more offensive than the first.

3. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”

This song isn’t terribly problematic; more of a head scratcher, I suppose. It’s creepy and awkward and makes everyone feel uncomfortable. Either Santa Claus is the dad and the kid has terrible timing (which is the most common interpretation), or the mom is having a legit affair with Santa (what?!). Most people tend to go with explanation one, which honestly makes the most sense. But the kid’s excitement about letting his dad in on the secret about his mom is odd to say the least, and it can lead to a lot of questions by little ones.

4. “Santa Baby”

Eartha Kitt’s version is one of the most iconic holiday songs. Sadly, “Santa Baby” just doesn’t hold up to modern sensibilities. The song is basically just a long wish list, presumably sung by a woman with the gumption to ask for what she wants. But at the same time, you have lines like, “Think of all the fun I’ve missed, think of all the fellas that I haven’t kissed. Next year, I could be oh, so good — if you check off my Christmas list.” If she was truly a take charge woman, she wouldn’t have to compromise her sexuality to get a gift. Especially not if that gift is a car or a fur coat. (Do people even still wear fur coats anymore? I sure hope not.)

Then there’s the gender swapped version by Michael Bublé, which is one of the most awkward holiday songs. He calls Santa “buddy” and “pal” in an attempt to make them seem more like bros and it just falls flat.

Fortunately, a few years ago, Miley Cyrus put her spin on it, giving it a modern, feminist flair.

5. “The Christmas Shoes”

Some holiday songs are more inspiration porn than straight up problematic. Take “The Christmas Shoes,” for example. The narrator, purchasing their last gifts, sees an obviously poor kid in front of him in line. He overhears the little boy telling the cashier his story. The boy needs to buy these shoes for his mother because they’re “just her size.” According to the kid, his mother is really sick and doesn’t have much time left. “And I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight,” he says.

In a completely unsurprising plot twist, the kid doesn’t have enough money and the narrator pays for the shoes. Suddenly, he remembers the true meaning of Christmas. Holiday songs about a little boy buying a pair of shoes for his dying mother would be very touching. It becomes problematic when the narrator chooses to insert himself as the savior of the story. Icky all around.

If that’s not bad enough, they turned the song into a movie. I’ll pass.

To make it clear, enjoying these songs doesn’t make you a bad person. However, it’s important to be aware of how poorly some things age. Changing perspectives force us to examine the world, and that’s never a bad thing, even at the holidays.

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