Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad and a big ‘Ho Ho Ho!’ to you!
Today’s Christmas, and for a while now, we’ve been hearing that endless loop of holiday music playing over and over again as we walk through the mall, drive in our cars or generally just exist.
So in the spirit of the season, we thought we’d offer up a little feminist/social analysis of some popular holiday carols. Enjoy!
1. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer –Traditional
Sure, it’s fun and has a catchy beat, but this song about a reindeer with a glowing red nose also sends a message to children about prejudice and racism — kinda like the brown eyed/blue eyed experiment by that teacher in the ‘60s did.
Teased, taunted and discriminated against for years because of how he looks, poor Rudolph never gets to “join in any reindeer games”—i.e. participate as an equal and active member of reindeer society.
But boy (and girl), does he show them! Not only does Rudolph overcome his persecution, he saves Christmas by using his nose to light the way and ensure that millions of little girls and boys get their presents.
Just goes to show you that MLK was right — we should not be judging people on the color of their skin (um, nose?) but on the content of their character.
And their amazing ability to guide a sleigh through the fog, of course.
2. Last Christmas –Wham!
Okay, you might think I’m stretching this one further than Stretch Armstrong’s legs, but hear me out.
We have a man — a fluffy-haired, stylish man of the 1980’s — who rejects traditional notions of masculinity and toughness to wax poetic about how his heart was broken the year before.
He rejects patriarchy’s requirement that he suppress all emotion and acknowledges that although he was hurt, he will heal and move on.
Alright, so maybe I did stretch this one a bit. But the cheesy video with the neon parkas, big hair and 1980’s beer commercial-esque setting make it worth mentioning 🙂
3. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) –John Lennon/Yoko Ono with the Harlem Community Choir
I used to regard this song as one of the many light, whimsical tunes one hears while walking through the mall shopping for presents every year. (And I didn’t even know the name of it, to be honest.)
But then I read about its origins—and realized there’s a lot more to the song than meets the ear.
Written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1971, the song was a follow-up to a multimedia, anti-Vietnam War campaign the two had participated in that spread the pro-peace, anti-war message via billboards in several global cities.
Particularly when paired with the music video, the song juxtaposes the wonder and magic of the holiday season with the poverty, war and injustice that occurs daily around the world.
The lyrics “so this is Christmas—and what have you done?” and “And so happy Christmas for black and for white, for the yellow and red ones, let’s stop all the fights” — convey the call for social action, equality and peace.
4. Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song) – Amy Grant
A lot has been said about the role of Jesus Christ’s mother Mary in the Christian Church — that she’s docile and submissive, the original virgin of the Virgin/Whore dichotomy; chosen by God to carry and give birth to His only son, without having a say in the matter.
But rarely do we hear how Mary herself feels in her role as Virgin Mother to the Son of God. In this song, we finally get the opportunity (or at least one songwriters depiction of her feelings).
We hear of her struggles: “I have traveled many moonless nights, cold and weary with a babe inside.”
And we hear about her self-doubt. “Do you wonder as you watch my face if a wiser one should have had my place?” She asks.
In a culture full of Christmas music that features songs about men — from Jesus to Frosty the Snowman — it’s nice to hear from a woman, especially a woman who played such a prominent role in what Christmas is all about.
These are only a few examples of Christmas songs that contain feminist ideas. Do you know any more? Please share in the comments!
Shannon Ridgway is a Contributing Writer to Everyday Feminism from the great flyover state of South Dakota (the one with the monument of presidential heads). In her free time, Shannon enjoys reading, writing, jamming out to ’80s music and Zumba, and she will go to great lengths to find the perfect enchilada. Follow her on Twitter @sridgway1980.