Nathan (vovat) wrote,

Santa Claus: Judge, Jury, and Executioner

For Christmas Eve, we're going to be examining a Christmas song (I'm not sure whether it would really qualify as a carol) that's been a favorite for some time. It's "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." As with most Christmas standards, there have been a lot of different recorded versions of this, one of the most notable being Bruce Springsteen's rock take with a somewhat different tune. Since then, there have been covers of THAT version, but I tend to be of the opinion that, unless you're The Boss, you should sing it in the original tune. Oh, well. Let's take a closer look at the lyrics:

You'd better watch out

Wow, this song doesn't mess around, does it? It's the opening line, and we're already being told to beware. Is this a Christmas song or a Halloween one?

You'd better not cry
You'd better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

It is, of course, a long-standing tradition that Santa only brings presents to good children. Parents use this as a way to try to get their kids to behave, although they often only do so around December. I would have to say, however, that this song's examples of badness are pretty mild. Pouting and crying? So Santa will pass you by if you show any sign of displeasure? What a stickler that guy is!

He's making a list
And checking it twice
Going to find out
Who's naughty or nice

I notice this isn't retaining the ABAB rhyme scheme of the first part. Anyway, the idea of Santa making lists of good and bad children is pretty typical, although I have to imagine the St. Nick who frowns on crying and pouting is going to have a much longer naughty list than his nice one. What the song doesn't get into is what Santa actually does to the bad children. Some versions of the myth simply have Santa ignoring the ill-behaved children, or giving them coal in lieu of presents. I'm not sure what he does in areas where a lump of coal would be considered valuable. I've also heard takes on the Santa story that had him whipping the bad kids, or sticking them in his sack and taking them off somewhere. Sometimes these tasks are attributed not to the jolly guy himself, but to a helper like Black Peter or the Krampus. I guess it's sort of like the question as to whether God is the author of evil.

He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness' sake!

I suppose Santa must have some kind of system set up for observing whether kids are good or bad, but that he is watching every child at every minute of the day is a somewhat disturbing concept. Does he also see kids when they're on the toilet? Chuck Berry got in trouble for doing that, but it's apparently fine for Santa Claus! Also, why would he bother watching anyone while they're sleeping? What are they going to do wrong when they're not even awake?

Recordings of this song often stop after this, and I can't really blame the artists for this, as the second part is only tangentially related to the first. Just look at these lyrics:

Little toy horns
And little toy drums
And rummy-tum-tums
Santa Claus is coming to town

Little toy dolls
That cuddle and coo
Elephants, boats
And kiddie cars, too
Santa Claus is coming to town

The kids in Girl and Boy Land
Will have a jubilee
They're going to build a toyland town
All around the Christmas tree

So the song starts out discussing how Santa is omniscient and demanding, and then just goes into "toys are fun"? Mind you, I think the real reason this part tends to be neglected is that no self-respecting recording artist would want to sing about "rooty-toot-toots and rummy-tum-tums." It's there sometimes, though; I'm pretty sure it was included in the Jackson 5's version, for instance. Don't you just love how their dad forced them to sing Christmas songs, even though their mom forbade them to actually celebrate it? Another case in point is their "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," with the future King of Pop insisting, "I DID see mommy kissing Santa Claus! And I'm going to tell my daddy!" I can just imagine Joe beating St. Nick with an extension cord after being told. Except Jermaine insists he never did that.

Anyway, I think I might as well close this out with a more upbeat Christmas number. Since I've already mentioned Chuck Berry in this post, how about this one? It still reminds me of Home Alone.
Tags: holidays, music, mythology
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