Ah the diversity and inclusion spoilsports are here again – you know we love to ruin all your festive fun!
In all seriousness, I LOVE Christmas. I love Christmas food. I love sparkly decorations in the middle of the truly painful English winter (I’m half Italian, I am not designed for this climate). I love getting together with family. I love any festival that will let me eat chocolate treats for an entire month.
And I love Christmas songs. Nothing gives me more pleasure than putting on Mariah Carey and dancing around my living room until my kids beg me to stop. But there are some songs that we really need to put away, because they are not only very much not in the festive spirit but are actually quite damaging. And who needs that kind of energy at Christmas?!
Do They Know It’s Christmas?
We refer to this song in my house as Do They Know It’s Racist? Because it is. Not just in a “ooh that’s not really politically correct” or “oh you and your leftie wokeness” (whatever that means) kind of a way. Honestly, listen to the lyrics.
Let’s start with “do they know it’s Christmas time at all?” Well, there are 631 million Christians in Africa – more than on any other continent – and given that many countries in Africa are less capitalism-centric than the UK, they probably pay more attention to the actual mass of Christ than we do. But there are also 446 million Muslims, 2.5 million Hindus, and a whole range of other religions across a continent of 1.2 billion people. So they probably do know it’s Christmas, they just don’t care.
The entire song does the “referring to Africa as if it’s a country” thing, which is lazy as well as ignorant. There are 54 countries on the continent, with a huge variety in people, cultures and environments. So when you say “there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time”, where exactly are you referring to, Bob? Because there’s so much snow that there’s a thriving skiing industry in South Africa, Lesotho, Morocco and Algeria. And there’s a massive mountain in the middle of Tanzania that’s covered in the stuff – you might have heard of it, it’s called Kilimanjaro. It even snows around the edges of the Sahara desert occasionally.
Let’s also deal with the line “no rain or rivers flow”. Erm, the Nile? One of the longest rivers in the world? The Niger? The Congo? The Zambezi? Seriously, mate, there’s loads of them. And, as Toto observed, it does indeed rain in Africa. Uganda gets 1,295mm per year, pretty similar to the UK.
If we want to talk about the real reason there was a famine in Ethiopia, it wasn’t because “nothing ever grows”, it was because Western nations have depleted the resources of much of the region for many years and then put in place dictatorial regimes that hoarded resources for themselves and used starvation as a weapon against their own people. So, yeah, largely we caused the problem and then we stood around singing snobbishly about the poor pitiful African people (when we meant Ethiopian people) that needed help.
Oh give Geldof a break, I hear you say, his heart was in the right place. Was it though? A number of humanitarian organisations working in Ethiopia at the time warned Geldof that the way he was donating the money would likely mean it was taken by the regime and wouldn’t make it to the people who needed it, but Geldof didn’t want to listen.
Was it about helping the people of Ethiopia? Or was it about shoring up Geldof’s flagging profile? I guess we’ll never know.
Baby, It’s Cold Outside
I had a row with my dad about this song last year. It came on the playlist (Alexa doesn’t come with a feminism function yet), and he had a jolly little moan about how people had said this song was offensive and it was, that old chestnut, political correctness gone mad. I told him that of course he wouldn’t see a problem with the song as, as a white man, he’d probably never been pressured into anything in his life and certainly hadn’t been at risk of date rape. Those of us who had, on the other hand, found the song deeply uncomfortable. He didn’t say anything for a little while. Neither did anyone else. Nothing like discussing date rape to brighten up Christmas dinner.
But honestly, the song is awful. It’s like having to sit there watching while a guy drunkenly pushes himself on a woman who is desperately trying to find any excuse to leave but keeps being told she can’t. Then we get to the line, “say, what’s in this drink?” and honestly I get quite distressed on her behalf. Most women have, at some point, been in a situation where we’ve been trying to get away and the guy has been pushing us to stay and we’re too scared to be direct about how much we want to leave because society has told us not to be mean and we never know how men will react to being rejected, but they won’t let us go home and we’re getting more and more scared. Sometimes it ends with us getting away, sometimes it doesn’t.
If you’re a man and you think this is just persistence, that it’s romantic, that it’s part of the game that women like to play, it’s not. It’s uncomfortable, it’s intimidating and it’s frightening. It’s coercion. It’s rape. Don’t do it.
If you want to listen to a song about a guy who really does care for his girlfriend in the cold, listen to Let It Snow. The singer is not looking forward to leaving, but he is fully prepared to do it when the time comes and the time he’s spent with this person will make it all worthwhile (“When we finally kiss goodnight, how I’ll hate going out in the storm, but if you really hold me tight, all the way home I’ll be warm.”) Now that’s romantic.
Santa Claus is Coming to Town
This one is less directly problematic, but it’s creepy as hell. “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake.” As a generation of children who grew up with the likes of Jimmy Saville and Rolf Harris on our screens regularly, maybe we’re a little more wary of strange men watching kids than others. But it just sounds weird. My brother insisted on having his stocking outside his bedroom rather than at the foot of his bed when he was a child, because he didn’t want a strange man coming in while he was asleep. I don’t blame him.
Plus, as parenting wisdom changes, we’re trying not to tie the idea of positive behaviour to getting stuff. “You’d better be good for goodness sake” cos otherwise you won’t get toys is not a great message for kids. Do good things to make people happy and have a positive impact on the world and because it’s a nice thing to do. Not because you want a Paw Patrol toy. Also, people aren’t good or bad – only behaviour is good or bad. As my three-year-old reminded me when I was talking loudly about Boris Johnson the other night.
All is not lost – Fairytale of New York
One song that had some seriously problematic language in it was The Pogues Fairytale of New York. However, they re-released the song last year with the words “f*ggot* and “slut” changed. When Laurence Fox rather predictably tweeted to complain about censorship, The Pogues official Twitter account replied, “F*** off you little herrenvolk s***e”.
The Pogues have talked about how we need to learn and grow and respond to changing attitudes and that adjusting the lyrics in the song is a reflection of how art never stands still. I couldn’t agree more.
Bonus round: the best Christmas songs
These are the top five Christmas songs ever, no arguments, don’t @ me:
- All I Want for Christmas is You – Mariah Carey
- It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas – Bing Crosby
- Rocking Around the Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee
- I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day – Wizzard (click here to see Mo and I singing that one!)
- Last Christmas – Wham!
So let the beeellllls ring out, for Christmassssss!