12 Days of Christmas: The Other Side of Christmas

christmasFor some of us, the forced jollity of the holiday season may be getting a bit too much. Christmas is a time for presents, but it's also a time for awkward social interaction, for bitterness and and loneliness. If this describes how you're feeling, we have the antidote with this collection of songs about the other side of the season to be jolly.

It's not a selection of anti songs per se. While that element may certainly be there, it's not all there is to them. Cheap cynicism and shouting “fuck Christmas” is easy. This is more about those Xmas leaves behind. Songs for the freaks, the heartbroken and the isolated.

1// Merle Haggard – If We Make it Through December

This country heartbreaker is a perfect example of what we're looking at here. It's not that the song's protagonist is anti Christmas. If anything it's the opposite. He wants Christmas to be as it should be, especially for his little girl. But that's not easy when you've been laid off from your work and are having enough problems putting food on the table. And the optimistic dream of moving elsewhere feels desperate rather than reassuring.

2// The Kinks – Father Christmas

Also about poverty at Christmas, but this time it's defiant rather than despondent. The poor kids in the song don't want toys, they want money and a job for their dad. And they'll beat up Santa to get it. The Christmas trappings in the video (Santa outfits, tinsel, snow) make the song feel more confrontational as opposed to softening the blow.

3// Ben Folds – Lonely Christmas Eve

It may have been written for a children's film, but Ben Folds still comes through with one of the best ever songs written about social isolation at Christmas. Sung from the perspective of The Grinch, it more than justifies his negative feelings about the festive period. Best listened to just before checking out Maddox's passionate defence of The Grinch.

4// John Denver - Please, Daddy (Don't Get Drunk This Christmas)

Another maudlin classic, the young boy in this song isn't asking for a lot this year. His greatest wish isn't for toys or an expensive holiday. All he wants is for his father to stay sober and not break his mother's heart again. A reminder that Christmas doesn't solve problems, it often accentuates them.

5// John Prine – Christmas in Prison

The subject of this song won't be returning home for the holidays at all. We don't know what he's done or how long he'll be behind bars. But even if it was something terrible, it's hard not to feel sympathy as he sits back and dreams of his sweetheart.

6// Aimee Mann – I Was Thinking I Could Clean Up for Christmas

Another song about someone with an alcohol problem, this time from the perspective of the alcoholic. While he sounds optimistic, everything else on the album is taken from (The Forgotten Arm) suggests that this attempt is doomed to failure.

7 // Jackson Browne – The Rebel Jesus

Contrasting the commercial side of the season with the religious beliefs behind it. Along the way, he takes some pointed pot shots at organised religion and its tolerance of poverty. A song that feels deeply personal and broad in scope at the same time, it's a peaceful call to arms.

8// The Long Blondes – Christmas is Cancelled

There are worse things then being single on December 25th. The return of an unwelcome ex, for example, who insists on hanging around like a bad smell. Thankfully, Kate Jackson has the good sense to send him packing. While sitting round eating fish and chips may not be entirely seasonal, it sounds far better than the alternative.

9// Gruff Rhys – Slashed Wrists This Christmas

It doesn't get any more bleak than this telling of a holiday suicide attempt by the Super Furry Animals front man. It's neither celebratory nor condemnatory which is what makes it so effective. We're given a sudden unexpected snapshot of a single person's story over the holidays. And just as we glimpse their life, the song ends.

10// Band Aid – Do They Know It's Christmas

This undoubtedly fits into the theme of this list and it wouldn't be complete about it. But that shouldn't be taken as an endorsement nor is it recommended you actually click play on the video. What a load of paternalistic patronising twaddle. For the record, Sir Bob, "tonight thank God it's them instead of you" is what's generally known as schadenfreude. Not a recommended emotion to portray on a charity record. And they almost certainly do know it's Christmas, considering Ethiopia has a strong claim to being the first country to adopt Christianity all the way back in 1 AD. You condescending fuck.

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