Christmas Carols: A parenting minefield

One of my favourite bits of the bedtime routine is singing to my children. I always sing at least one song to each of my sons before they go to sleep. My eldest usually chooses a song now that he knows my full repertoire, but during the festive season his only guideline is that I sing Christmas songs.

There aren’t a lot of Christmas songs that I know by heart, and even with those I’m probably getting the lyrics wrong. But either way, I find my inner monologue while singing these songs to my son ever so slightly troubling. I worry about what exactly do these lyrics mean and are they really sending appropriate messages to a 4 year old?

Okay, so it’s not a really serious worry. Certainly not big enough for me to stop singing them. But I thought it might be amusing to take a look at some of the weirdest Christmas song lyrics out there.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake

My son pegged this one the other day. “How does Santa Claus see me when I’m sleeping?” I told him it was “magic”. He seemed to accept it. But how creepy is that? No wonder my children look slightly worried in their Christmas photo, if they think they’re meeting the fat bearded man with odd dress sense who has been watching them all night long – ALL YEAR.

Family photo with Father Christmas.jpg

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Without quoting the lyrics directly, we all know the story of this song. All the mean bully reindeer laughed at poor Rudolph because he had a stupid big red nose. They wouldn’t let him join in their reindeer games (whatever those might be – maybe antler ring toss – Rudolph probs wasn’t missing much).

But then, when suddenly Rudolph gets some extra accolades from the big boss (Santa), and becomes the manager of the Sleigh Guidance Department, all the reindeer “loved” him. The bastard suck ups. I worry that this song is teaching my son that it’s okay to be a shallow arse-licker who bullies people until they want something from them.

Winter Wonderland

My son said the other day that this is his favourite Christmas song. I guess he just likes the tune. I worry about the old-fashioned sentiments.

In the meadow we can build a snowman
Then pretend that he is Parson Brown
He’ll say, “Are you married?”
We’ll say, “No man”
But you can do the job, when you’re in town

What? So this couple is walking around in the snow, they decide to build a snowman, and then they decide to pretend he’s a priest? How random is that? Is it actually both members of the couple, or just one of them trying to propose in an entirely creepy way? “Look, Parson Brown the religious snowman wants us to stop living in sin. What do you say, babes?”

I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas

I’m not actually worried about my son’s reaction to this one. We both know we’re talking about snow. But the whole time I’m singing this, I can’t help but think of racists. I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know. I mean, why don’t you still know white Christmases if you used to have them all the time? Did you move from Finland to Spain? Or are you just a member of the alt-right and speaking in thinly veiled innuendo? It just makes me think of some of the worrisome politics we are facing today, even though that’s obviously not what the song is about.

We Wish You a Merry Christmas

This one is pleasant enough, until it gets to the bit about figgy pudding. Bring us some figgy pudding. Please bring some right now! We won’t go until we get some. Bugger off, you spoiled brats. Where are your parents? Get your own figgy pudding.

Silent Night

This one is lovely and soothing. It is definitely one of my favourites. But I have to admit to cringing a bit at the round yon virgin bit. What if the boy asks me, “Mummy, what’s a virgin?” And what do I tell him? Maybe a young, unmarried woman? But that could backfire. He might go around calling people virgins. “My cousin is only 16. She’s a virgin.” But I can’t tell him what it actually means! It’s a minefield. I’ll just mumble the virgin part and hope he doesn’t notice. Round yon mm-mm-mm, mother and child!

What are your favourite Christmas carols? Do any of them have slightly dodgy lyrics?

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
Petite Pudding

Should I lie to my children about Father Christmas?

Like most non-parents, before I had my children, I had some pretty strong opinions about how I was going to parent my future children. I remember sitting in my neighbour’s lounge, 9 months pregnant with my first son, saying to her:

“I will never let him watch In the Night Garden. What a ridiculous programme!”

Well ha bloody ha ha! By the time he was 1 year old, Night Garden had become a part of our bedtime routine. He wouldn’t commence bath and story time until CBeebies had actually told him it was time to go to bed. So much for my pre-parent parenting plans.

Another topic on which my pre-parent self had strong opinions was about telling my children the truth. I told anyone who would listen that I would never lie to my children. And that included “lying” to them about the existence of Father Christmas.

I saw an article on Netmums recently saying that researchers have found that “the lie of Santa can actually be damaging”. Now, pre-parent me would have been nodding vigorously to this. I had long conversations with my mother-in-law about how I wouldn’t be telling “the Santa lie” to my children because it would be a betrayal. She understandably disagreed with my thoughts on this.

I worried that if I lied about this one thing, then once they found out the truth they would never trust anything I had taught them. Especially if it was anything that needed to be taken on pure faith without any proof. However, post-parent me feels a bit different.

The thing is, I never truly believed in Santa Claus as a child, but I still went to his grotto every year. My family never went out of their way to convince me he’s real, but they still sometimes gave me gifts from “Santa”. I enjoyed playing the game. It didn’t matter to me whether he was real; it was just fun to imagine he was. I never told them I didn’t believe because I was afraid that would be the end of the fun stuff. I’m sure they knew that I didn’t believe, but none of us cared.

So as my eldest son grew old enough to understand the concept of Father Christmas, I found I couldn’t resist teaching him about the Christmas customs. Soon, I was shamelessly “telling the lie”. I’ve enjoyed getting family pictures at Santa’s Grotto. I’ve loved teaching my son Christmas carols. One of his faves is “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”. Last year, on Christmas Eve, we even put out mince pies, brandy and a carrot for the reindeer. The brandy was large and the carrot was very, very small.

This year we’ve kicked it up a notch and he’s written his first letter to Santa, which we actually sent off in the post.

Letter to Santa

So, as with Night Garden, I’ve done a complete 180 degree parenting turn.

The thing is: I’m not sure if it’s really lying. How is it any different from telling any other imaginative story or playing a game of pretend? And importantly, my son hasn’t questioned it yet. The closest he’s gotten is, when listening to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, he asked how Santa can see him when he’s sleeping. I just said “magic” and he was happy with that.

The real test will be if he starts asking more serious questions about whether Santa actually exists. This is where I will draw the line. I don’t care to go out of my way to propagate the fantasy, but at the same time, I don’t want to outright say Santa doesn’t exist. If I told him this, he might ruin it for his friends, and no one is going to thank me for that.

So my plan is to explain that believing in Father Christmas is a game we all love to play in order to make Christmas more fun. That’s why we do it, right? Because it’s fun?

I’m going to tell him that nobody knows for absolute certain that he doesn’t exist, but that it doesn’t matter. The idea is that it’s fun to believe – just like when we pretend to be cats or Pontipines (oh yes, being a Pontipine is a popular pastime in my house). And I will remind him that it’s important not to tell other people if we don’t believe he’s real, because it will ruin the fun.

There may not be a literal jolly fat bearded man hanging out at the North Pole forcing elves to make toys. But the idea of it is a positive way to fuel our children’s imaginations. Just look at all the fantastic books and films that use this popular myth to create a new and different story. It’s a quintessential part of our culture.

So even if Father Christmas doesn’t exist in the real world, he will always exist in our imaginations. Without him, Christmas wouldn’t be half as much fun. And that’s the absolute truth.

Petite Pudding
Two Tiny Hands