Yep, it’s time. I’m done with Halloween, done with the election, done with Thanksgiving, and I need something cheer me up. Holly! Pine smell! Baked goods! Pretty lights! Gifts! And yes, cheerful music!
We have Christmas songs we love, Christmas songs we hate, and we all hate Mariah Carey this time of year (Actually, I like the song, I just want to hear it 500% less during this season.) But I typically don’t jump on board the Christmas carol hate until the week or so before Christmas when I’m ready for regular music again. So let’s talk about some good songs that really embody the spirit of the season.
The ones by Disney, who get all your gift purchase money, of course.
10. Nuttin’ for Christmas (Prep and Landing: Naughty versus Nice)
“Spilled some ink on mommy’s rug! I made Tommy eat a bug! Bought some gum with a penny slug ‘cuz somebody snitched on me!”
I grew up in the nineties, the era of grunge and punk. I grew up on the likes of The Offspring, Blink-182, and especially Green Day. Though I was a fairly well-behaved kid, I glommed onto anti-establishment music long before I knew what that even meant. The Plain White T’s took on a similar aesthetic for this 1955 novelty tune.
In case you’re not familiar with this song, a bratty kid sings about his misdeeds, and instead of reflecting on his behavior and the ramifications his actions bring, he rebuts every confession with “Somebody snitched on me!” The lyrics are oddly enthusiastic about a kid celebrating how he’s “gettin’ nuttin’ for Christmas”, and he adds a warning to other wanton children they should experience a similar fate should they act up.
In the special, a single installment of Prep and Landing, a franchise that never took off, elves Wayne, Lanny, and Noel have to rescue a piece of North Pole tech that a naughty child has stolen. It becomes a high-stakes, action-packed adventure as the elves dodge traps, one of which is a motion-activated dancing Santa belting out this song, accentuating the theme of naughtiness.
Plain White T’s bring an edgy modern twist to this song with its fast-paced tempo and Tom Higgenson’s punk-boy delivery that makes it fun. It actually sounds like being a rotten little snot and getting penalized by Santa might actually be worth it.
9. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (A Green and Red Christmas)
“Have yourself a merry little Christmas. Let your heart be light. From now on, our troubles will be out of sight.”
We think of the Muppets as the epitome of zany, madcap comedy, and they undoubtedly are. But what makes it work is at its center is Kermit the Frog himself. The very essence of master puppeteer Jim Henson, Kermit isn’t just their boss or friend, he’s the heart of the organization, and its through his compassion, sweetness, and kindness where the true beauty of the Muppets comes through.
In this Christmas album, Kermit sells it best: as himself. He’s not trying to be funny or grandiose. He’s not trying to be clever or polished. I love “The Rainbow Connection” like crazy, but despite Kermit’s many, many musical moments over the decades, he’s not exactly what you’d call a good singer. Because of this, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is beautifully unpretentious.
As a result, it feels the most sincere, coming from the kind-hearted amphibian to pleasantly wish us a good holiday season.
8. I Really Don’t Hate Christmas (Phineas and Ferb: Christmas Vacation)
“You see, Valentine’s is torture and my birthday is a mess; New Years’ is a lot of noise, and Arbor Day’s a pest! Halloween’s a horror, but I guess I must confess, I really don’t hate Christmas!“
For starters, this won’t be the first time you’re going to see this Christmas special on this list, so deal with it.
Second, there are only two truly great Christmas villains: Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch, and both have good reasons why they hate Christmas. Whenever other holiday specials are made, they often appoint some evil bad guy who wants to DESTROY CHRISTMAS because, obviously, that’s the highest stake possible. It’s lame, cliche, and a bit insulting to those who don’t celebrate Christmas, but Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh came up with a pretty unique perspective for Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz.
Doof doesn’t hate Christmas…but he doesn’t like it either. He even refers to his feelings as “an intense, burning indifference”. But as a member of the evil organization L.O.V.E.M.U.F.F.I.N., he’s essentially obligated to do so. While he waits for a reason to destroy Christmas with his Naughty-inator, he sings this jaunty tune about how he can find reasons to hate any holiday, on anything, but because his holidays as a kid were completely meh, he grapples with his duty and his emotion, or lack thereof. It’s a great song celebrating just how much you do not feel. It’s no “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”, but then, what is?
7. 12 Days of Christmas (John Denver & the Muppets: A Christmas Together)
“On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree!”
Here’s my confession: “12 Days of Christmas” is my favorite traditional Christmas carol. Not necessarily because it’s the most emotional or endearing, but because it’s easily the most malleable. It can be made to suit any holiday album of any theme. I respect it that way, from Bob Rivers’ “12 Pains of Christmas” to Bob and Doug McKenzie’s cheeky version, it’s a fantastic tune that is used abundantly and to great effect. But sometimes, there’s something to be said about sticking with the classic lyrics.
There’s little to say except it’s lovely to hear the original voices of the Muppets (Jim Henson, Jerry Nelson, Frank Oz, and David Goelz) alongside the pleasant warmth of John Denver singing the original lyrics of this traditional song. The only truly unique part is, naturally, in the “Five golden rings” stanza, where Miss Piggy loves milking her line for all it’s worth, and in the later repetitions, throw in a “Ba-dum bum bum!” To segue into Robin, Gonzo, Fozzie, and the chorus that feels so, so right.
Sell it to the cheap seats, Miss Piggy.
6. Scrooge (The Muppet Christmas Carol)
“There goes Mr. Humbug, there goes Mr. Grim! If they gave a prize for bein’ mean, the winner would be him!”
Speaking of the Muppets, few representations of them for the holiday season are more iconic than the beloved 1992 film. (Don’t get me started on the 2002 dumpster fire…) While there are several great songs in its soundtrack, I love this great introduction number.
Not unlike “Belle” in Beauty in the Beast, the main character strolls through town, minding their own beeswax, meanwhile the entire town sees fit to gossip musically, well within earshot, establishing the film’s tone, setting, and personality of the protagonist. The main difference here is the tone is slightly more snarky and cheeky as you feel at least Scrooge deserves to be mocked.
A short bridge features a choir of female muppet carolers try to give him the benefit of the doubt, suggesting his cruel facade is meant to shield his sweeter, vulnerable side…before entirely giving up on that idea with “Nah!’s and “Mm-mm!”‘s, sending the song’s tone right back into the mocking tone.
I love “Thankful Heart” and “It Feels Like Christmas” as songs that are more traditionally Christmas-y, but “Scrooge” edges out due its catchy melody and fun lyrics.
5. Thank You, Santa (Phineas and Ferb: Christmas Vacation)
“So for all the things you do, Santa Claus, we’re thanking you”
When I was a kid, among our collection of VHS cassettes for Christmas was a Harveytoons’ Little Audrey cartoon from 1947 called Santa’s Surprise. (Harveytoons is best known for creating Casper, the Friendly Ghost). The cartoon featured the main character leading a small group of kids from various countries as they clean Santa’s house as a token of gratitude for all he has done for them. This is something that I hadn’t really seen in Christmas media of any kind until the Phineas and Ferb holiday special/episode from 2009.
The entire premise hinges on Phineas’ desire to give back to the man in red by building him a rest stop. He and his brother does this, as he explains to their friends, because Santa gives and gives and gives, but few really go through the trouble of reciprocating the gratitude. At the film’s closing credits, Mitchel Musso (Voice of Jeremy Johnson in the show) sings this sweet acknowledgement of what it means to be truly thankful that Santa does what he does. And honestly, it’s a sentiment rarely seen. It’s not thanking Santa because he got you something cool for Christmas. It’s thanking him for putting himself through such rigorous endeavours simply to bring joy and happiness for children everywhere.
Sure, the second half of the song is repetitive, but Musso’s smooth vocals sell the sincerity, the attitude of the singer, and its message all make up for that shortcoming in spades.
4. Oh What Merry Christmas Day (Mickey’s Christmas Carol)
“Joy to the children, far and near; what a wond’rous time of year! Isn’t it just grand to say: Merry Merry Christmas!”
Sometimes you just want to hear something that harkens back to the days your youth, whether or not it actually was. Yes, I grew up watching Mickey’s Christmas Carol every year, but this song makes full use of its power to sound like something much older.
The chorus actually sounds like 20-strong choir, donned in top hats and bonnets, knee deep in snow on a corner of a London street. The lyrics themselves are basically a Thomas Kincaide painting in word form. It evokes all the warm, cozy imagery of a an old-fashioned Victorian Christmas, all the while the uninitiated would never peg this as a song from a Mickey Mouse cartoon.
3. 12 Days of Christmas (Phineas and Ferb: Christmas Vacation)
“THE ENTIRE TRI-STATE – You know what, how about just two of the three states? That’s fair, right? Deal?”
So I already described a good classic version of “12 Days of Christmas”, but what is, in my opinion, the best adapted version? Well…here you go.
Like the Muppet version, each character takes a turn to ask “Please Santa give to me” instead of the usual true love. Most are obvious if you’re a fan of the show: Candace wants two busted brothers, Isabella wants a sash full of patches, Vanessa wants her own car. Some, like Jeremy’s wish for a silver guitar and Baljeet’s wish for a kiss from a pretty girl are derived specifically from the episode. But then there’s Doofenshmirtz, milking the fifth chorus for all it’s worth, asking for the Tri-State Area…but as each verse goes by his turn, he gets increasingly self-conscious to hilarious effect. Candace’s temper runs shorter and shorter the longer the song goes on, before (As usual) she gives up altogether. It works because each line is perfectly in sync with each character personality, loyal to the explicit direction the show’s creators give them.
In addition to Doof’s hilarious ramblings, the twelfth entry is a great joke that is perfect for fans of the show, and I won’t spoil it here.
2. We Wish You a Merry Christmas (Phineas and Ferb: Christmas Vacation)
“We wish you the best day ever, and hope all your Christmas endeavours are super-fun, amazing, and clever, and that your New Years’ rocks, too!”
Last one, I promise.
The original song has always felt kind of cheap and insincere to me. Probably because after “Jingle Bells”, it’s the shortest and most iconic of Christmas carols, usually used in commercials (Like the perennial favorite one for Hershey Kisses…yeah, I like that one, too.) But holy cow…this version is just awesome.
First, the song immediately launches into the cast of children in a full, bombastic, enthusiastic rendition, immediately discarding any notion that this song is going to be done with anything less than 100%. Like “12 Days of Christmas”, various characters take their own verses and really have fun making their own spin on them. Yes, they even take a chorus and wish us “a Perry Christmas and a (chatter!) New Year!” It’s masterful lyricism.
Of course, Doof brings it home with his declaration of his desire to take over the Tri-State Area before the last chorus…and it takes a gag out of the holiday special:
“We wish your ev’ry endeavour/Makes this the best Christmas ever/And we’re all so glad that we will never/Mention figgy pudding!“
During the final note, Doofenshmirtz grumbles, “Oh great, well NOW we mentioned it!”, and the terse retort by Major Monogram,”You know, no one would’ve noticed if you’d have just kept your mouth shut.” It makes me think Povenmire and Marsh had a snarky impromptu session they felt they had to make as part of the soundtrack. And it’s SO worth it! (For the record, in the special, Doof doesn’t get the urge to destroy Christmas until a choir comes to his doorstep demanding figgy pudding. You’d have to watch it. It’s funny. I swear.)
1. The Best Christmas of All (Mickey’s Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse)
“With our true friends and family, and the mem’ries we recall; it’s the love we share that fills the air, that makes this the best Christmas of all!”
I I talked about this one before in my review of the movie where it came from. And while I still think the special as a whole is patronizingly geared toward little kids, this song…
This song…it just gets me. Every time. And I only have the vaguest idea why.
The melody is simple. The lyrics are nothing special. I don’t even care all that much for the special itself. But for whatever reason, I get misty-eyed the first time I hear it every year. If I had to peg why it makes me so emotional, I think it comes down to hearing the voices of so many beloved Disney characters, a real rarity in Disney music. I mean, really, what could possibly be better than spending a Christmas party with all these characters, most of us have grown up with? Winnie the Pooh is there. Belle and the Beast are there. Peter Pan is there. Pinocchio and Geppetto are there. Mowgli and Baloo are there. The seven dwarfs are there. Even Jafar, Hades, and Captain Hook shed their vindictive natures and join in chorus.
I am 34 years old in 2020, and I’ve watched some serious crap happen over the past eleven months. Even with the election over, I’m still stressed with the daily insanity over at the White House, and the new wave of COVID-19 cases has increased said stress. I needed to hear some joyful music sooner than usual this year, and I can’t think of a better group of friends, however fictional, that I’d want to spend it with. Yes, I’m a grown man, but if I want hug Mickey Mouse under the Christmas tree this year, then I will. And in the end, that’s what Disney gives me. It’s a cruel, bitter world out there, and the Disney company itself is rarely better. So in the name of the holiday season, I have just one request:
“Just let me have this.”
Happy holidays, my friends. And I wish you the best Christmas of all.