on manipulative holiday songs (well…one in particular)

So this morning I endured the first hearing of my most hated song, which thankfully is only played on the radio at this time of year.

You know the song!  It’s the one I bitch about annually on facebook and twitter and the chorus goes a little something like this:

Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my Mama, please
It’s Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry, sir, Daddy says there’s not much time
You see she’s been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes would make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight.

AUUUUUUUUUUUUUGHH!  You guessed it!  Newsong’s “The Christmas Shoes”.

To recap:  this manipulative piece of holiday crap was written in 2000 by Christian recording artist Newsong.  And actually reached number one on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart in that year.  It has since been recorded by any number of country/Christian bands and gets trotted out every year to bring tears to the eyes of radio listeners and remind folks of the true meaning of Christmas.

In 2002, this manufactured piece of treacle was adapted into a fully-fledged novel and published.  The novelisation was adapted for a made-for-tv movie startting Rob Lowe.

To recap the story line of this horrendous holiday shanty, the singer/narrator is standing in line at a checkout after doing some last minute Christmas shopping late on Christmas Eve.  In front of him in line, is a small boy dressed in worn old dirty clothes, carrying a pair of women’s shoes.

The boy tells the cashier that he wants to buy shoes for his mother, who is ill and may “meet Jesus” later that night.  The boy, of course, pays with pennies and doesn’t have enough, so the singer/narrator pays for the shoes.  The boy thanks him and walks away, leaving the narrator miraculously filled with understanding of the true meaning of Christmas.

<heaves into garbage can>

Okay, I have no problem about being reminded about the true meaning and nature of Christmas.  In fact “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, “A Christmas Carol” and many other classics of music and literature teach this lesson well. 

Of course, my main question to ask is why do we need a holiday in order to justify treating people with dignity and respect and being charitable, giving and peaceful.  It’s a sad commentary on human nature that we choose to make an effort to openly demonstrate these qualities once per year.  But I digress!

Once again, I don’t mind parables reminding me of the true meaning of Christmas and the holiday season.  However I find this one version of that tried and true formula to be manipulative, calculating and, above all mean-spirited.  Let’s go through the checklist here:

  • Grumpy guy who has lost the true meaning of Christmas?  Check!
  • In line, late on Christmas Eve?  Check!
  • Small, obviously poor young waif coincidentally right in front of him in line?  Check!
  • Said urchin is buying something obviously not for him/her?  Check!
  • Said pathetic creature pays in pennies?  Definitely!
  • Said urchin does not have enough money?  Checkarino!
  • The little child imparts a tragic tale in order to move someone to the point that they pay for the item?  100%
  • Sick and dying mother?  Yup, she’s in there!
  • “Jesus?”  Him as well!
  • and it’s all gonna happen anytime soon, more specifically tonight as it’s Christmas Eve?  BINGO!  We have a winner!

If this song even rang as being honest, it would not rate such a knee-jerk reaction from me.  However it was clearly written to manipulate people’s emotions during the holiday season and prey on Christian sentiments.  It was clearly written to be Newsong’s “big Christmas single” and was included as a “Bonus Track” on a special holiday edition of their recent album.

Once the song became a hit, was optioned for the book and the Hallmark movie, the band shut down their independent record label and signed to Zomba Music and re-released the song on a Christmas album with a mix of originals, Christian carols and such inspirational classics as “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” (imaginatively titled “The Christmas Shoes”) three years later. 

In 2006, they even attempted a sequel of sorts with the “Christmas Hope” song, which had a similar theme:

Her wish this Christmas
Was that Christmas would just pass her by
Nothing could reach her
Or answer her questions why
She feels so alone
And she wonders if all hope is gone.

This song didn’t reach the heights of its predecessor.  It seems as though people saw through this one, perhaps.  Honestly, I hold no grudge to Newsong, I’m sure they are a talented group and have been on the Christian music circuit for close to three decades and they seem to have made a career for themselves.

However “The Christmas Shoes” is one of the most calulatingly mean-spirited and manipulative Christmas songs out there.  I am reminded each year, how much I loathe it and cringe when radio plays it again and again.

Patton Oswalt comments extensively on this song and it’s fucking hilarious and right on the spot…


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