Loathsome Lyrics

Problematic messages found in Christmas music.


Jessie Larrinaga

During the holiday season, it is still important to recognize the social issues that can be found all around us, even in things as simple as Christmas music. Songs that have been considered cultural staples have been found to contain problematic lyrics and themes.

Jessie Larrinaga, Managing Editor

Christmas is right around the corner, and to get into the holiday spirit lots of people are listening to classic Christmas music. The inherent sexism and misogyny present within many of these songs should not be ignored. 

One song that very clearly exhibits these problematic themes is “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Lyrics sung by the woman in the song, like “Say, what’s in that drink,” and “The answer is no,” are combatted by the male counterpart saying, “Baby, don’t hold out.”  

The problem with these lines is very clear. These lyrics can be desensitizing to rape culture as well as just promoting male ignorance of when a woman says “no.” This song should not be added to any holiday playlists, but it’s important to recognize the societal issues present in normalized American culture.  

Other Christmas songs have less obviously ignorant lyrics. In “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” it promotes stereotypes about the types of gifts boys and girls should receive for Christmas.  

It is becoming more societally accepted that children should be able to play with whatever toys they want – and that there doesn’t need to be gender designations for different types of toys. It can be subconsciously harmful and counterproductive to hear a song that says, “A pair of Hopalong boots and a pistol that shoots, Is the wish of Barney and Ben, Dolls that’ll talk and will go for a walk, Is the hope of Janice and Jen.”  

Another song that perpetuates problematic ideas is “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” This one probably seems like a reach, because the song seems very lighthearted and upbeat despite its weird theme about a woman being killed on Christmas. But upon looking into it, it becomes apparent that this song has some underlying issues.  

They song was popularized in the 1980s, at the height of second-wave feminism. The songs popularization was a negative reaction to this movement, and its lyrics suggest that “Grandma” got in the way of the men of the family’s fun, so her death is something to be celebrated.  

Perhaps the worst Christmas song of all time is “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Created in 1984, it was essentially written by an all-white group of privileged musicians with the intent of “bringing attention” to poverty in Ethiopia.  

It is inspired by a famine, but its simplistic and unnuanced lyrics lack any of the depth necessary to inoffensively discuss the issue. Lyrics like “And tonight thank God it’s them instead of you,” and “And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime,” show just how little intent was put into a song that is meant to convey such a serious issue.  

It does, in fact, snow in Africa. And the white savior complex pushed forward by these lyrics is uncomfortable and extremely insensitive at best.  

Most of these songs have been played for decades and are considered cultural staples. With the exception of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” the songs will probably be unavoidable during this holiday season. 

Recognizing the issues within the songs is very important to understanding current cultural issues as well as the growth that has occurred since the production of these holiday classics.