I have to say, I had concluded that there were absolutely no reasonable Christmas songs - not ever. I was even tired of Fairytale, which has been the best of the lot for a while. It frustrated me that nobody seemed able to produce something decent, without a whole lot of tacky happiness.
What is more, all of the usual Christmas songs are old - here is very little in the last 20 years, and even those that are more recent are no better, as a whole. Why can nobody contemporary write anything decent?
If I sound like the Grinch, I am sorry. I don't think I am asking too much, in all honesty - the sentimental drivel we listen to at Christmas would not pass muster most of the year. I also don't like most Christmas carols, because these are also dated, overdone, and not (on the whole) up to the standard we would insist on at any other time. I am not trying to be a Grinch, but I do want my music - even my Christmas music - to be decent, reasonable, listenable.
Then I rediscovered Just Like Christmas by Low. I would like to say that my cynicism was overturned, but it was not quite so much - it was a ray of light. It is a cheerful song, but not overdone. What is more, I think the lyrics say something of vital importance about Christmas.
The story of the song is about two people traveling in Scandinavia. It starts snowing, and one says "Isn't it like Christmas", to which the other thinks "No, it isn't like Christmas at all.". As they arrive at their destination, they find short beds and it reminds the second person of their childhood. Her response is that this is actually "Just like Christmas".
The thing is, the snow didn't make it like Christmas. Snowy weather, Christmas trees, decorations, lights don't make for Christmas. Nor does family, turkey, presents all the surface frippery does not make Christmas. All those people who want to "do things right" to make it a "proper Christmas" are missing the point. It may be pretty and lovely, it may help with the long dark nights, and short days when the sun seems as reluctant to get up as I am, and I have no problem with that. But it doesn't make it a real Christmas, any more than going to church on Christmas day does.
The thing that made the singer respond that it was "Just Like Christmas" was the reminder of childhood. "...we got lost. The beds were small but we felt so young" The real meaning of Christmas is, I think, the return to the mystery, the magic, the wonder of children at Christmas. I don't mean a nostalgic trip down memory lane, I mean an acknowledgement of the amazing, wonderful, magical story of God coming to the earth to engage with us, to deal with us, to save us.
We get inured to these stories - I have heard the story countless times, several times most years. We know them so well that we repeat them without thinking. They are part of our culture, in some usually twisted form, and we miss the story behind them. We miss that God came to us. We miss that God became us. We miss that God did not forget or leave us, even in our darkest times.
That is Just Like Christmas. And I would like to wish all of my readers a happy Christmas and a good new year - because this seems like a good post to put this on.