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Cryin' Around the Christmas Tree―The Top Ten Most Depressing Holiday Songs

Cryin' Around the Christmas Tree―The Top Ten Most Depressing Holiday Songs

There are some beautiful holiday songs out there, and then there are some holiday songs that are just plain depressing. Here's a list of the top ten of the latter.
Julia Tagliere
The holidays are, for many, a joyful time of year: twinkling lights, long-anticipated visits from family and friends, special treats, and festive celebrations help to brighten even these shortest, darkest days of the year. There is just something warm and optimistic about hopping in the car to go Christmas shopping; you turn on the radio for some beautiful holiday music to put you in the mood, and suddenly, you are being treated to a cheery song about... Grandma being run over by a reindeer?

With a flash of annoyance, you hit the scan button, seeking a more cheerful holiday number. You settle in to the promisingly merry sound of jingle bells, only to find yourself sniffling along with Don Henley, who is crying about having no friends at Christmas. Switch channels again, and it's Band-Aid, reminding you how dismal this holiday is for people in the rest of the world. You switch channels again and again, and, at least this year, it seems you're running into the same problem on every station: cheerful, heart-warming, and traditional carols celebrating the holiday season are being replaced by maudlin, depressing, even haranguing songs designed to bring even the most resolutely chipper holiday reveler to the edge of a breakdown. What has happened to our holiday cheer?

There certainly is a lot to be depressed this year: global warming, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, energy woes, layoffs, rising food prices, the economic crisis. Just when it seemed as though the picture couldn't get any bleaker, Ebenezer Scrooge, a.k.a., Bernard Madoff, blows out the candles on everyone's Menorah and smashes everyone's dreidel with his nefarious and dastardly pyramid scheme.

I guess that is why, perhaps, the sudden and ubiquitous presence of these really depressing holiday songs on the radio strikes me as the wrong way for station programmers to go. We look around each day, read the papers, watch the news, and are repeatedly slammed with fresh new horrors to keep us awake at night. The holidays, whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, or Kwanzaa, should be our light in this darkness; our respite, for a moment, from the great and serious worries awaiting us in the harsh light of morning; our yearly reminder of the blessings of family, faith, and friends, and the renewal of goodwill toward men.

Many people already have difficulty with depression during the holidays (more now than ever before, I would imagine, given our current crises); why overwhelm these unsuspecting listeners with even more reasons to be depressed? Stations should almost play a disclaimer prior to some of these 'holiday' tunes: "Caution: The song you are about to hear will kill the last ounce of Christmas spirit to which you are desperately clinging. Emotionally fragile listeners are advised to change the station immediately."

Well, I say enough is enough. Life is depressing enough without holiday songs designed to depress rather than cheer. With that in mind, I have prepared my personal list of the 'Top Ten Most Depressing Holiday Songs Ever'. If you hear the deejay announcing any of these, seek out some eggnog (or a really hot toddy) immediately.

10. Do They Know It's Christmas by Band-Aid
Before anyone starts e-mailing me about including this song on my list, let me say that I bought the CD when it first came out to contribute to their fundraising efforts. It was, and is, for a good cause. That does not change how depressing the lyrics are: "...a world outside your window/and it's a world of dread and fear...". This song's lyrics are so bleak, they can make ginger snaps turn to dust on your tongue.

9. Where Are You Christmas by Faith Hill
This is a sweet, beautifully arranged song which really highlights Hill's range and artistry. Unfortunately, she's talking about Christmas, laughter, music, and all other good things having disappeared in the mists of time. The song tries to redeem itself at the very end, but long before then, I'm feeling eight hundred years old and weeping into my coat sleeve.

8. Someday At Christmas by Stevie Wonder
This song was probably intended to make people feel hopeful about the future we could create: a world where there is no more war, men are free, and children are no longer hungry. If he recorded this song today, it would make me feel wistful and hopeful; the fact that the song was first recorded in 1967 just depresses me, because we are still at war, men are still not free, and children still go hungry. Lack of progress is not a festive message.

7. Blue Christmas by Elvis Presley
Okay, so maybe your sense of social justice is such that you're upset about my choices for Numbers 10 and 8, but you can't argue that my next two choices are not truly depressing holiday songs. At number 7, we have 'Blue Christmas' by Elvis Presley. I have to say, I've heard the Presley one so many times that it's lost a bit of its bite, but it still fairly wallows in self-pity: "You'll be doing all right with your Christmas of white, but I'll have a blue, blue, blue Christmas". It brings to mind an image of some hapless Romeo standing in the snow with his face pressed against the glass of his ex-girlfriend's window as she celebrates the holidays without him (right before calling the police on him).

6. Please Come Home for Christmas by The Eagles
Henley's whining on The Eagles song is even worse―he's not only lost his true love, he doesn't even have any friends (they couldn't take the whining). Get back out there, boys! The holidays are a perfect time to socialize! Everyone's desperate!

5. We Need A Little Christmas by Johnny Mathis
When I was a kid, I loved this song. It was so bouncy, and so ready for Christmas, it just couldn't wait―exactly how a normal kid waiting for Christmas is supposed to feel. Now, however, I guess I must be old and jaded, because it sounds to me like Mathis was whistling in the dark. There's an edginess to this song I didn't notice in my childhood; he sings like he's in need of his next (Christmas) fix, more driven than anticipatory. And do I really need to be reminded that I've 'grown a little sadder, grown a little older'? I have a mirror for that.

4. Happy Christmas by John Lennon
The holidays do bring with them lots of memories, reminders of days gone by; the end of the year is a time for us to look back and think about where we were a year ago. John Lennon does that pleasant little job for me every year, when he musically takes me to task for all of my failures the past year. "So this is Christmas, and what have you done?" Well, it doesn't really matter what I have or haven't done every year, because every year, Lennon comes back to remind me that I haven't yet changed the world. It's depressing, because every New Year's Day, I vow that this will be the year I succeed. Thanks, John, for coming back every year to remind me of my failures.

3. Miss You Most At Christmas Time by Mariah Carey
Strangely, Mariah Carey has the unusual distinction of making both my list of 'Top Ten Depressing Holiday Songs' as well as my list of 'Top Ten 'Feel-Good' Holiday Songs' ("All I Want For Christmas" - who can listen to that and still be in a bad mood, I ask you? But I digress). Just this song's title does it for me; for anyone who's lost someone, this song is a guaranteed tear-jerker. It speaks the sad truth that during the holidays, losses are harder to bear, and it makes sure you really feel lousy by listening to this song about how sad you are.

2. I'll Be Home For Christmas Any version
In general, this song has always been guaranteed to depress, ever since Judy Garland first crooned it, but there is a version this year that includes recorded messages from servicemen and servicewomen overseas who can't be with their families at Christmas. I make it through almost all of their messages with nary a chin tremble, but when I hear the servicewoman at the end talking about not being with her four-year-old daughter for Christmas, I lose it every time. I wrestled with including this one in my list, because I think it's a valid reminder of the terrible sacrifices our armed forces make for those of here at home to be able to celebrate the holidays with our loved ones, each year in peace and freedom, but ultimately, it's a hard song to listen to and still feel festive.

My list to this point has included songs that are depressing because they make me feel inadequate; because they make me miss loved ones who are far away or no longer, here; because I haven't done enough to save the world; because they remind me of the misery of others all over the world. (If you've gotten this far in the article and are starting to feel depressed, take a break and listen to "White Christmas" by Clyde McPhatter & The Platters. If you live in Minnesota, skip straight to Adam Sandler's Christmas Song―because we really don't need any more snow in Minnesota right now.) But none of the songs included on this list can hold a candle to my Number One choice―primarily because the song is so depressing, it sucks all the air out of a room when it's played.

1. Christmas Shoes by Bob Carlisle
You know, if there's anything more depressing than world poverty, hunger, war, failure, loneliness, then I guess it would have to be Death. Wait―not depressing enough. Let's have a child's mother be dying. And shoeless. At Christmas. Oh―and let's have the kid not have enough money for the shoes. And let's have her die on Christmas Eve. Terrible stuff happens year-round; death doesn't take a vacation just because it's the holidays, I know, but this song takes the cake for maudlin.

None of the terrible things we face each day take holidays, any time of year. War, disease, poverty, hunger, fear, oppression, violence, death―those things are with us 365 days a year. But for a few short weeks each year, we have a built-in reason to celebrate, a reason to feel peace toward one another, a reason to reach out a hand more warmly, a reason to let our hearts feel lighter. Don't crush that spark of cheer by wallowing in songs reminding us how grim life is―nobody needs to be reminded of that.

So take my list, tape it to your dashboard or cubicle, and when you hear them announcing that one of these songs is coming up next, change the station. I guarantee, your heart will be lighter―at least for three minutes.