Listen. I know y’all are busy running errands, doing last-minute shopping, and packing for your trip over the river and through the woods. So I’ll get straight to the point: The Waitresses’ 1981 single “Christmas Wrapping” is the best holiday song, and if you’re not going full Joe Pera Reads You the Church Announcements over it, you’re missing out. Here, listen to it:
And now let me tell you why this is the best thing to ever happen to Christmas.
1. It’s a great Christmas story.
So much of Christmas culture is about storytelling. Not just the movies and television specials—so many of the songs also carry a narrative, from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” to “We Three Kings” to “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” So too, “Christmas Wrapping,” which is about a couple who like each other but can’t get together until they run into each other at the A&P on Christmas Eve. It’s a classic rom-com, in other words. Somebody get Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell on the phone and turn this into a Netflix movie.
2. It slaps.
We all love a white Christmas, but if you don’t get one this year, don’t blame climate change—blame “Christmas Wrapping,” because it’s such an overwhelming yuletide heater it will turn your flurries to rain. That bass line! Those horns! I’m listening to this song for the seventh time today as I write and I’m still tapping my feet. That’s because …
3. It’s modern.
Not in the sense that it’s new—“Christmas Wrapping” is 37 years old, which means it could run for president … which, now that I think about it, “Christmas Wrapping” should run for president.
But most popular secular Christmas songs are from 60 years ago or more, and religious Christmas carols are even older. They wrote the occasional holiday banger back in the 19th century—far be it from me to impugn Adolphe Adam, composer of “O Holy Night”—but Good King Wenceslas didn’t know how to knock out a pop bass line or wail on the saxophone. So we’ve got this weird cultural shift where for 11 months out of the year we all listen to rock or pop or hip hop, then we all start drinking eggnog and listening to stodgy old stuff. It’s why Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and Wham!’s “Last Christmas” and Bruce Springsteen’s cover of “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” are so popular: They sound like the music we listen to the rest of the year. Compared with the latest Mark Ronson–produced jam, “Christmas Wrapping” might sound a little dated in 2018. But compared with your garden-variety Christmas carol, “Christmas Wrapping” is downright cutting-edge.
4. It’s honest.
This past week, Her Most Serene Majesty Amy Grant dropped by NPR to play a Christmas-themed Tiny Desk Concert. Between songs, she talked about her own occasionally dysfunctional family and said, “If you don’t need therapy before Christmas, hang on—you’re gonna need it after.”
Too few Christmas songs acknowledge that the holidays are frequently more stressful than joyous, and put pressure on us to be a part of some perfect snow globe scene. It’s ironic, because the biblical Christmas story is about a young blue-collar couple that’s so desperate to find a place to sleep they accept lodging in a barn, where Mary—who’s carrying a baby that doesn’t belong to her fiancé, it bears repeating—goes into labor. Imagine living through that and having people thousands of years into the future sing about Christmas cheer.
That’s why the thing I love most of all about “Christmas Wrapping” is that the narrator’s main emotions are exhaustion, loneliness, and alienation. She likes a guy but they’re too busy, too sunburned, too stranded with car trouble, to get together. By December, she’s so wiped that she attends no parties and decides to spend Christmas alone. And even that goes wrong—she forgets to buy cranberries, and then leaves the oven on while she goes to the store to buy some.
“Christmas Wrapping” has a happy ending, of course, and our heroine runs into her man at the supermarket and they end up together. But for most of the song, our narrator is just horny and/or tired. I don’t know people who roast chestnuts on an open fire, but I absolutely know the people in “Christmas Wrapping.” It’s just comforting to see a song portray the holidays as what they are: fun, but also stressful and sometimes bad.
Thank you for your attention. Merry Christmas, merry Christmas. May your holidays be full of cheer and cranberry-related meet-cutes with hunky guys.