Three years ago, I wrote a brief homage to my favorite Christmas song, “Christmas Wrapping” by the Waitresses. This relic of ’80s pop–New Wave wormed its way into my heart not only because of its killer bass line and saxophone hook, but because it gave voice to an aspect of the holiday season that’s far too infrequently celebrated in song.
Many people—maybe even most—find Christmastime to be an invigorating break in what would otherwise (in less temperate regions of the country) be a genuine winter of discontent. It is for this group that most of the Christmas music canon is written, and therefore that canon is devoted to celebrating one of two things: the momentous theological import of the birth of Christ; or the equally anticipated secular celebration, which combines the comfort of the familial hearth, the granting of children’s wishes, and universal goodwill. Joy to the world, in so many words.
But if you’re stressed out, if you’re lonely, if you’re separated from your family—hell, if you work retail in a store that doesn’t rotate its corporate-approved playlist frequently enough—that much yuletide joy can start to grate. The Salvation Army bell takes on the maddening quality of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Bells.” Holly, jolly feels more like hollow and jaded. And with every cheerful and saccharine social interaction, you get closer to subjecting some well-meaning stranger’s chestnuts to an open fire.
“Christmas Wrapping” was written for this quiet minority—people who know their feelings of fatigue are at odds with their neighbors’ demands of figgy pudding and brightly shining stars. These weary souls tap their feet to the Waitresses, buy the world’s smallest turkey, and settle in for a solitary holiday.
But in 2020, nine months into the full double-barreled fury of the coronavirus pandemic, the entire world’s population found itself in this boat: exhausted by nearly a year’s worth of fear and dread, isolated from loved ones, and all too aware that the season’s greetings were meaningless platitudes.
It was a dark place, but among the few consolations was the emergence of a new modern Christmas standard, courtesy of American power-pop quartet Charly Bliss and Toronto punk rockers PUP: “It’s Christmas and I Fucking Miss You.”
This two-minute, 43-second masterpiece is not only a welcome addition to the holiday musical songbook, but it’s one of the great pieces of popular art produced during and about the pandemic. From its first line, “It’s Christmas and I Fucking Miss You” is about the struggle to get into the holiday spirit in a time when happiness is hard to come by: “Deck the halls, the snowflakes fall / But I’m not feeling glad at all.”
And it doesn’t exactly get happier from there. Lyrically, “It’s Christmas and I Fucking Miss You” makes “Christmas Wrapping” look like “Here Comes Santa Claus.” This pandemic Christmas celebration includes forced smiles, depression, heavy drinking, and in the song’s most evocative line, “crying on the couch to Elf alone.”
But “It’s Christmas and I Fucking Miss You” isn’t as dark as a close read of the lyrics would have you believe. First of all, it’s pretty peppy from a musical perspective, with harmonies in the chorus that recall “Don’t Know Much” by Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville, by way of Weezer and/or Fountains of Wayne.
More than that, the angst and loneliness in “It’s Christmas and I Fucking Miss You” are expressions not of being unloved, but of being loved and having to suffer through temporary (we hope) separation from friends and family. It’s healthier, I’d argue, to vent those feelings than to suppress them for the purpose of maintaining a facade of normalcy that even by December of last year had been shredded into tinsel. Even the most die-hard antlers-on-the-car, eggnog-swilling, White Christmas–bingeing suburban holiday evangelists have now felt the strain of that contradiction.
One of the nice subtle touches of “It’s Christmas and I Fucking Miss You” comes in the music video, which mixes archived Charly Bliss tour footage and scenes of singers Eva Hendricks and Stefan Babcock singing to each other over video chat—a image that was probably more universal last year than any other previous form of American Christmas celebration. (I personally went to no fewer than five Zoom Christmas parties in 2020.) The word “bittersweet” gets thrown around a lot in both music and holiday discourse, but few songs fit that characterization better.
A year later, “It’s Christmas and I Fucking Miss You” has unfortunately lost none of its relevance. The bridge puts a cap on the song’s theme of frustration by hoping for an end date to the pandemic: “I don’t want to be a bummer / But maybe I’ll see you next summer / If we stop fucking this up / But if that seems optimistic / Maybe I’ll see you next Christmas.”
Now that next Christmas is here, and the omicron variant has sectors of American society on edge once again, the tension and isolation of the pre-vaccine pandemic are starting to reemerge—if those feelings ever truly abated in the first place. Even if the national mood doesn’t get quite as dark as it was a year ago, it seems slightly inappropriate to go right back to a full-throated and unironic rendition of “Wonderful Christmastime.” Fortunately, thanks to Charly Bliss and PUP, we have just the song for the moment.