Christmas music doesn’t have to be good to be enjoyable. It’s fun to hear the mixed bag of it all. Pointless, upbeat ditties like “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” share the radio dial with the reverent “O Holy Night” and the wistful “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.”
Which brings us to the song I’m picking on: Faith Hill’s “Where Are You Christmas?” It’s a swing-and-a-miss of a Christmas song.
You’ve heard the song – in fact, you’ve probably heard it a few times just this year. It was, of course, the signature song for Ron Howard’s 2000 adaptation of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
The tune isn’t bad. The lyrics ruin what could be a great song.
The first stanza:
Where are you Christmas?
Why can’t I find you?
Why have you gone away?
Where is the laughter
You used to bring me?
Why can’t I hear music play?
Hill goes on to sing about how time has changed her as a person, and wonders if Christmas will ever bring the same enjoyment she enjoyed in her youth.
So far, so good. There could be a very resonant story in here. Hill is singing about something many people go through. As we grow up, Christmas means different things to us. It’s not a bad setup, and has the potential to be a very relevant and affirming song.
After two stanzas of that, we hear this bridge:
Christmas is here
Christmas is here
If you care, oh
If there is love in your heart and your mind
You will feel like Christmas all the time
Okay, I guess? Surely there must be more to this journey. But no, there’s just the last stanza.
Oh, I feel you Christmas
I know I’ve found you
You never fade away…
And that’s pretty much it. To paraphrase the song’s main narrative points:
- I don’t feel the Christmas spirit this year.
- It’s Christmas.
- Okay, I feel the Christmas spirit this year.
This is a Lucy Van Pelt level of holiday psychiatry.
It works a little bit better viewed a companion piece to the Grinch movie, in which the Whos down in Whoville are wrapped up in the material trappings of Christmas at the expense of the Christmas spirit.
Still, this touches a nerve. It could be a really good and unique song. Many people have a soft spot for the Christmasses they celebrated as a kid, when the magic just seemed to happen all around them. Growing to adulthood (which is to say Christmas, as in Yule…) brings the assorted stress points of the holiday season. (Sidebar: This topic was covered in another carol, “The 12 Pains of Christmas.”)
The payoff for being an adult at Christmas is getting to be the magician who makes the Christmas season wonderful for others. Being a musical soliloquy, the song doesn’t tackle that. At the beginning and end of the song , Hill sings about feelings the audience can identify with, but she skips the viable transition.
There’s a story in there, one that audiences would hear and identify with. The songwriters should have had Hill sing about watching her kids at Christmas, or about bringing joy to others. They could have created something with depth that spoke to contemporary audiences. The potential was there to create a true modern classic in the tradition of The Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping” or Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Auld Lang Syne.”
Instead, they skipped the depth and crapped out a shallow, schmaltzy song to promote a mediocre movie. Like a half-assed Christmas gift, it leaves you wishing they just wouldn’t have bothered in the first place.