This Jukebox From Hell installment is a special one, dear friends. Even as I write this, a Christmas tree glows proudly in my window; stockings for Drew, wife, and pets line the bookcase; in preparation for the holiday at hand, rolls of wrapping paper are stacked in the corner like the most festive teepee framework ever assembled. The brisk air is scented with the pine-scented Yankee Candle to my right; it’s almost depleted, but fear not, for we have backups. Indeed, the season is in full swing, and I couldn’t be happier; returning to a innocent, childlike mind state for a month does a body good. The blatant commercialism, the reruns of the same tired commercials and holiday specials, the hellish mall parking lots, the endless replays of the same stale holiday songs; none of this fazes me. I welcome it, in fact. I am a shining beacon of holiday spirit; nothing shall curtail my love for this time of year. I simply won’t allow it.
Well, okay. Maybe there’s one thing: contemporary Christian group Newsong’s “Christmas Shoes”. Wikipedia’s entry on the song merely contains a paragraph about “Christmas Shoes”, indicating its status as a moderate hit for Newsong, and mentioning that it was adapted into a book and a subsequent made-for-TV movie. It mentions nothing about the popular urban legend
that I made up just now regarding the song’s creation, which states that Satan, bitter about having no Christmas in hell and fed up with receiving Facebook requests from people who misspelled Santa’s name, left this tune on Newsong’s doorstep, intent on selling the story to a Christian audience and finally turning them against this pesky Jesus character once and for all. But the Prince of Darkness underestimated the herd mentality of the modern-day Christian, and “Christmas Shoes” was not only embraced with open arms, but celebrated as an affirmation of God’s love, and the true meaning of Christmas.
Of course, that’s nonsense. “Christmas Shoes” is the single most depressingly nihilistic, deceptively cynical song to ever emerge from the holiday season; next to it, Elmo and Patsy’s springy ode to cheerful holiday death, “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer”, sounds positively ebullient. And as I spent every Christmas Eve of my teenage and young adult years watching this monstrosity performed – not merely sung, but acted out – in church by people I loved dearly, I died a little inside. It wasn’t enough to derail the promise of family gatherings and gift-giving, but it was four minutes of sheer, all-encompassing “bah, humbug”. It’s the coal in my stocking this time of year; it’s my reward for the myriad bad things I’ve spent the previous year doing.
“Christmas Shoes” is a first-person narrative that follows a grouchy yuppie into a crowded department store – given the level of sheer ill will he exhibits towards the whole experience, I can only assume it’s a Wal-Mart – for some last-minute Christmas shopping. (The song later reminds us that he’s doing his shopping on Christmas Eve, and therefore deserves whatever he gets.) Waiting in a lengthy line, he encounters a Dickensian street urchin – described as “dirty from head to toe” – who attempts to buy a pair of shoes with a sack full of pennies. He explains that his mother is at death’s door, and that he’d like to buy her these shoes, so she’ll “look beautiful if mommy meets Jesus tonight”. When the cashier flatly informs him that he’s short a few bucks, the boy repeats his story several times over until our narrator forks over the difference. The boy thanks him and books it home to give his gift to mother; meanwhile, the narrator reflects on the saintly act he’s done, and surmises that the only logical explanation for this whole experience is that the boy’s entire ordeal was actually an elaborate object lesson from God Himself, who “sent this little boy to remind me what Christmas is all about.”
In preparation for this, I’ve read countless “Christmas Shoes” rants on the internet, most of which I abandoned halfway through, annoyed with their over-use of emphatic profanity, their over-reliance on capital letters, and their flagrant abuse of spelling and syntax. Many of them choose to disassemble the song, line-by-line, in an attempt to prove themselves smarter than the song. (One, in particular, took umbrage with the phrasing “there I was in another line”, which he took to mean that the narrator was placing himself in a different line than the little boy, thus defying the logic of the story; clearly, Newsong’s intention was to imply that the narrator was weary of shopping, and therefore lumping this exhausting line-waiting with every other exhausting line he’s waited in throughout the season. This would-be writer’s overuse of the word “hombre” and the fact that he got outsmarted by the songwriter for Newsong caused me to abandon ship halfway through.) That’s not gonna be my tactic, although it’s admittedly easy to poke holes in this abomination.
Nope, here’s what I take issue with when it comes to “Christmas Shoes”: much like the execrable holiday movie “Christmas With the Kranks”, “Christmas Shoes” has no protagonist, no one that the listener can connect with and like. The little boy comes closest, what with his Tiny Tim-like demeanor and his adorable poverty, but when one considers that he abandoned his dying mother, who may not make it through the night, to spend an interminable amount of time in a department store shoe shopping, the lovable moppet loses some of his cute cache. Our narrator spends half of the song boo-hooing about first-world problems like spending money on crap toys and waiting in lines, and the other half patting himself on the back for his generosity. The cashier, even after hearing the young boy’s tale of woe, turns the young man down without a second thought, turning him down with a “son, there’s not enough here”, and proves himself an incredible douche. Even Jesus Christ – I’ll reiterate that, JESUS CHRIST – doesn’t make it through this song unscathed: the Jesus that this young boy’s family knows is not the Jesus who touched lepers with his bare hands and hung out with the whores and tax collectors of his day, but a new model, capitalism-friendly Jesus. According to this young man’s perception of Jesus, should his mother show up in Heaven wearing, say, a battered pair of Keds, the savior of mankind would, disgusted, turn her away, and banish her either to Hell or at least to Heaven’s equivalent of the Days Inn for eternity.
This bit of rampant cynicism is what mystifies me about Christian consumers. Raised in a Christian household myself – I still attend church every Sunday – I’ve always been a bit befuddled by the way works of utter mediocrity are celebrated by the Christian community at large. I have no problem with the concept of Christian media; in practice, however, it’s often lowest-common-denominator type stuff, the sort of art that takes no actual artistic gambit to make. It’s the result of a fairly noxious brand of cynicism: just slap a Christian sticker on it, they’ll buy it, and they’ll buy it in droves. “Christmas Shoes” goes a step further by being pretty much the antithesis of everything Godly, and yet there’s an earnest teenager singing it in church every year.
The (soul-)crushing blow comes in the form of the bridge, where the narrator claims that this was all God’s doing, that God put this little boy into his life just to teach him about the true meaning of Christmas. This restates a long-held issue that I’ve had with many Christians: this theory that God purposefully makes HORRIBLE THINGS happen, solely for the purpose of teaching us elaborate lessons. And according to this ego-centric storyteller, God was so incensed by his grouchy Yuletide mood that he actually struck a wife and mother with a terminal illness – a household, mind you, that is clearly already living below the poverty line – STRICTLY to place this young man in front of him in line on Christmas Eve to teach him something about, I dunno, theoretically having a spirit of giving, but realistically consumerist culture in America. Somehow, I don’t think our man learned the right lesson.
For its numerous crimes against humanity, for being a ballad so mawkish and treacly that Creed wouldn’t even touch it, and for being embraced by warm Christian arms as a tender, sobering reminder of the spirit of Christmas even though it is literally – LIT’RALLY* – the furthest thing from that, “Christmas Shoes” will be forever enshrined in the Jukebox From Hell. And why shouldn’t it be? That’s where it originated, after all.
* If you can give me the reference and WHY it’s pertinent to this article, I’ll buy you a Christmas present.