Of Christmas song lyrics and soapboxes

Dear Readers,

It’s time, once again, for me to step up on my soapbox to riff on problematic Christmas song lyrics. Ready?

I’ve never watched American Idol and never heard of Kimberley Locke until I heard  her very nice version of “We Need A Little Christmas.” While most traditional versions are a bit blah, relying on children whose cheer sounds a little fake, hers seemed to catch the real meaning of the song, which is about allowing the joy of Christmas to lift one from the rut of becoming meaner and colder as you grow older.

Her version of “Up On The Housetop,” however, makes my hackles rise for the following reasons:

The original lyrics, penned by Benjamin Hanby in 1864, are “Up on the house top, reindeer pause; out jumps good old Santa Claus.” This is correct because 1) reindeer is plural, 2) they pause to let Santa jump out of sleigh, and 3) pause rhymes with Claus. Kudos to Mr. Hanby for putting this together so succinctly!

In her 2007 version, Ms. Locke sings “up on the housetop, reindeers paw,” which is heinous because of the above reasons. Furthermore, when it comes to filling the stocking of Little Will (per Hanby’s lyrics), Ms. Locke’s version includes “a basketball and a whip that cracks,” rather than the original “whistle and a ball and a whip that cracks.” Problematic again, because even Santa Claus would have trouble stuffing a basketball into a sock, while Hanby’s more modestly-sized “whistle and ball” would fit nicely into a hand-knitted nineteenth century stocking or a spandex-infused modern sock.

In the grand scheme of things, does any of this matter? Not to everyone, but it does matter to me. If you’re going to have traditional Christmas songs, don’t alter the lyrics unless the change improves them. No outer space convertibles for Madonna in lieu of the classic ’54 requested by Eartha Kitt; no dolls that “toodle” (according to the Jackson Five) rather than the standard “toddle.”

And with that, I step down from my soapbox for another year. My Christmas-song-lyrics-soapbox, that is.

P.S. There is no reindeer named Donner, either; only one named Donder (German for thunder) who’s paired with Blitzen (German for lightning). Just ask Clement Clark Moore!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Paul says:

    Donner is correct, I’m afraid. ‘Donder’ is not a German word as best I recall. (Ah, the magic of Google: Donder actually is thunder in Afrikaans.)

    Given the rest of the discussion, I won’t go into the other version of the song, that begins, “Up on the rooftop slick as glass.”

    1. ltbrwnhare says:

      Perhaps “Dutch/German roots” would suffice?

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