Point: It’s Time to Ban ‘The Christmas Shoes’!
Merle Haggard‘s “If We Make It Through December.” Marty Stuart‘s “Even Santa Claus Gets the Blues.” Kacey Musgraves‘ “Christmas Makes Me Cry.” Country artists — and their fans — are suckers for sad Christmas songs. But sometimes, the sadness gets too over the top, the lyrics tug at listeners’ heartstrings just a bit too much, the song gets played a few too many times, and sad becomes sappy. And nobody needs sappy, especially around the holidays.
At the risk of sounding callous by dissing a holiday tune about a young child trying to fulfill his dying mother’s Christmas wish, helping someone else discover the true meaning of Christmas in the process, “The Christmas Shoes” is pure sap. And it’s time it’s retired — nay, banned.
Written by Eddie Carswell and Leonard Ahlstrom and released in 2000 by Christian group NewSong, “The Christmas Shoes” became a Top 40 (No. 31) hit on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart; it also spent a week at No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. In 2002, the song was made into both a book and a made-for-TV movie — and, 15-plus years later, is still all over the place when radio stations start playing holiday music.
However, “The Christmas Shoes” has also been named one of the worst Christmas songs — if not the worst — by everyone from a Joplin, Mo., newspaper columnist to the readers of Jezebel.com. Comedian Patton Oswalt has even done a pretty hilarious (if slightly NSFW) bit about “this dark, disturbing song.” And when the song’s stuck in your head, it’s hard not to agree with all of them.
"Country fans are suckers for sad Christmas songs. But sometimes, the sadness gets too over the top, and sad becomes sappy. And nobody needs sappy."
From the get-go, the lyrics of “The Christmas Shoes” lay it on thick: The song’s narrator is “not really in the Christmas mood,” while the little boy ahead of him in line is wearing “worn and old” clothes and “[is] dirty from head to toe” — two bordering-on-cliche characters written to hit holiday spirit-filled listeners right in their hearts. In fact, by the time the first chorus comes around — “Could you hurry, sir / Daddy says there’s not much time / You see, she’s been sick for quite a while … And I want her to look beautiful / If Mama meets Jesus tonight” — it’s a Christmas miracle if listeners haven’t already shed a tear.
Oh, but then there’s the second verse: The little boy doesn’t have enough money, so he turns to the narrator and shares how “Mama made Christmas good at our house / Though most years she just did without.” After another chorus, listeners find out that the narrator “laid the money down / I just had to help him out” … and then, after another chorus, the narrator explains, “I knew I’d caught a glimpse of Heaven’s love … that God had sent me that little boy to remind me what Christmas is all about.”
Perhaps Oswalt puts it best: “The bridge will make you lose all hope that we live in a just or sane universe.”
And then the children’s chorus comes in. By this time, listeners have either had to stop wrapping Christmas presents because their tears are soaking through the wrapping paper, or they’re stomping through the house, breaking ornaments in a “The Christmas Shoes”-induced rage as they try to shut the radio off. And neither of those things are what anybody needs at Christmas.
To be sure, Christmas is not a happy time for everyone: Many people are missing a loved one, suffering from depression or anxiety, struggling to deal with the added expenses that come with the holidays, stuck far from home or dealing with any number of other personal troubles. A dose of reality is sometimes necessary during the holidays, even if it comes via song. But “The Christmas Shoes” tries too hard — so hard, in fact, that it’s a little offensive to its listeners.
The Boot and Taste of Country’s collaborative Point / Counterpoint series features staff members from the two sites debating topics of interest within country music once per month. Check back on Dec. 20 for another installment.
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