The Christmas boohoos

If there’s one attribute of the Christmas holiday that sticks out more than anything else, it’s the music…the MUSIC! But not all Christmas songs bring a smile to your face and a spring to your step: some songs can make you blubber like a baby. One song in particular gets the Checkout Girl every time.

It’s inevitable–like death and taxes but more serious. It’s the time when my favorite smooth jams/lite and mellow/James Taylor-heavy radio station switches from its perfect-for-bed-time playlist to Christmas tunes. All day, every day.

And I love it.

I’ll belt out the tone-deafiest versions of “O Holy Night” and “Santa Baby” you ever did hear with absolute abandon and glee. I’ll giggle my way through “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” and that Chipmunks Christmas song that everyone hates but me. I’ll whisper “Silent Night” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem” to my cat and dog as we curl up for bed.

It’s not that I love Christmas. I’m not a Christian and work retail for a living, so the celebration of the birth of Jesus is a double-edged sticky wicket for me. But, I grew up Catholic, and the sights, smells, sounds, and songs of the holiday hold lovely memories for me. Plus candy canes are non-denominational.

Anyway, the day before Thanksgiving, the radio station switches over from Carole King to “We Three Kings” and, because of the previously mentioned retail job that makes me strung out and forgetful, I am pleasantly surprised.

This year, in keeping with tradition, the change over had completely slipped my mind, and I tuned in to hear the soothing sounds of whatever was at the top of the adult easy listening charts during my four minute drive to work. I was bracing myself for the busiest day of the year and pouting because I’d just broken my baby toe in two places in an uncool accident*, when the strains of that Charlie Brown Christmas piano song came bouncing out of my speakers.

The heavens opened, the clouds parted, and my toe still hurt too much to stand on. Christmas music was back!

But my excitement was immediately followed by a tiny bit of anxiety. Because Christmas music was back, that could only mean one thing…it was coming. IT was coming. IT. WAS. COMING.

What is it? I’ll give you a hint: Jesus, poverty, child, dying mom. It’s the song “Christmas Shoes,” and it is my nemesis.

Now, I’ll admit, I’m a total baby when it comes to certain things. For instance: any movie/book/song about a pet dying ends with me in a heap, experiencing a quivering sobgasm. Poorly-behaved and destructive yellow lab in Marley and Me, sob. The Burt Reynolds dog in All Dogs Go To Heaven, sob. The song “Wildfire,” sob. Old Yeller, Homeward Bound, The Fox and The Hound, sobsobsob.

And don’t get me STARTED on anything about children/moms dying. The baby and the twins in Angela’s Ashes, sob. The baby in Trainspotting, sob. Sally Field in Forrest Gump, Steele Magnolias, and Smokey and the Bandit…well, you get the picture.

Then there’s the song. That damn damn hell damn Christmas song. I can’t tell you the first time I heard it–it seems like it’s always been around, taunting me. Rubbing my face in the fact that it can take me down in the four minutes and thirty seconds it takes to play. But it’s right to gloat. It’s got me right where it wants me.

If you’ve never heard the song, or really listened to it, here’s a sample of the lyrics:

Standing right in front of me
Was a little boy waiting anxiously
Pacing around like little boys do
And in his hands he held
A pair of shoes
And his clothes were worn and old
He was dirty from head to toe
And when it came his time to pay
I couldn’t believe what I heard him say
Sir I wanna buy these shoes for my Momma please
It’s Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry Sir?
Daddy says there’s not much time
You see, she’s been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes will make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful
If Momma meets Jesus, tonight.

Please tell me you read that and said, “Who the hell are you, Bob Carlisle, to write such emotional drivel, designed to not only tug at the heartstrings but floss its teeth with them?”

But, you can’t have such passionate hatred without a measure of love**, and part of me does love “Christmas Shoes.” I’m a girl who loves the release of a good cry, what can I say? I fast forward to Goose’s accident, to John Coffey’s execution, to elderly Allie and elderly Noah passing away together, to when Jack slips away from Rose.

To my heart, “Christmas Shoes” is all those things in one. Plus Jesus!

But I can’t buy it and play it any time I need a good weep. Well, I’m almost certain that I could: it’s probably available on many, many Christmas compilations, and I’m sure there’s probably a Bob Carlisle album (maybe ten, who knows?) floating around somewhere. But, I’m a purist. I believe that “Christmas Shoes” finds me when I need it.

So, back to the radio I go to play emotional Russian roulette. Hundreds of wonderful holiday songs are waiting, maybe thousands, but one, one is biding its time, just below the holly jolly surface, preparing to take me down. And that’s okay. When the time is right, “Christmas Shoes” will be back.

* I’ll never tell. Okay, I dropped my Macbook on it.
** Shades of Wes Mantooth to Ron Burgundy in Anchorman: “Deep down in my stomach, with every inch of me, I pure, straight hate you! But, God damn it, do I respect you!

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The Checkout Girl

The Checkout Girl is Jennifer Lemons. She’s a storyteller, comedian, and musician. If you don’t see her sitting behind her laptop, check the streets of Richmond for a dark-haired girl with a big smile running very, very slowly.

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