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Alternative Christmas Carols

Ever wonder who the heck Parson Brown is? And what's so hot about Farmer Gray that everyone wants to attend a birthday party at his place? I can tell you. Well, mostly.

See, it's that month where holiday songs (mostly Christmas carols) are playing in every store across the country. I'm guessing about half of you out there are already sick of them, especially since many of them started before Thanksgiving.

Here's the thing. I like Christmas music, even though there are plenty of crappy songs out there. I'm fascinated by the fact that there's a few dozen songs floating about the airwaves that seeminglyeveryone knows the words to. No other musician or artist is like that. Do you like U2? Great, so do millions of other people (including me), but not everyone does. Can you sing along to the most current pop songs? Good for you, but I can't. I don't like most of them. But Christmas carols? Like them or not, we all probably know most of the lyrics to most of them. We never had a say in that. I think that's...interesting about our culture.

So here's my take on it. If you've got to listen to them every year, why not at least give alternate versions a chance? Shake it up a little. Personally, I'm a little tired of Brenda Lee's version of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride." Don't know who they are? Neither did I, until I looked them up, but you've heard them about a zillion times. They're the same ones every radio station and every retail store plays. (It should be noted that my wife likes most the traditional ones; I may be alone in this! While I search for goth versions of popular Christmas songs, she's just as happy playing Dolly Parton's.)

Toward this end, I've curated the next two episodes of Sidedown's Downcast, which I've called Hollycast. It's 45 minutes of alternate Christmas songs, some funny, some serious, all guaranteed to be different than what you're used to! With some fun bits thrown in. Please, enjoy!

Hollycast Part 1. Right-click and download the mp3, or just play it right here off this page:

Christmas carols are pretty strange, though. We sing them but we don't usually think too much about them or what they're saying. Some of them are strange, quite far removed from modern thinking. Here's some trivia for you:

  • "Winter Wonderland" - Not technically a Christmas song at all, though it's certainly winter-themed. It's actually a love song of sorts with a snub toward authority by not waiting to be married to act married. Really listen to the lyrics and you'll hear it. "In the meadow we can build a snowman / Then pretend that he is Parson Brown / He'll say 'Are You Married?' We'll say 'No man, but you can do the job when you're in town!" A parson is a sort of wandering Protestant minister (pastor) who conducts wedding ceremonies, and Parson Brown is evidently a known parson from wherever this wintery stroll is taking place. Then: "Later on, we'll conspire / As we dream by the fire / To face, unafraid, the plans that we've made / Walking in a winter wonderland." Later on the same day, still unmarried. Innnnteresting.
  • "Sleigh Ride" - No one knows who Farmer Gray is. I guess he's just everybody's favorite farmer and brews a mean eggnog. Who the heck knows?
  • "Jingle Bells" - There's another verse to the original song, in which the narrator takes a ride on a sleigh with a girl and they careen into a snowbank and fall down (or get drunk, depending on your chosen definition of "upsot"). Oh, and a bob-tail is a horses's tail clipped short so it wouldn't risk tangling in the carriage it pulls. Poor horse.
  • "The Twelve Days of Christmas" - The first seven of the twelve gifts involved birds (it has been surmised that the gold rings refer to rings around a bird's neck). What's up with that? And it's supposed to be four "collie" or "colly" birds—not four "calling birds"—which are black birds. What's up with this gift-giver?

More trivia for you next week with Part 2 of Hollycast!

posted on 12.10.2007