Let’s Retire This “Christmas” Song!

We’ve heard the song countless times. A duet between a suave, seemingly caring, and emotionally persuasive male and a reticent female torn between going out in the cold night, her sense that it would not be right to stay for that drink, and the seemingly caring overtures of her male host. The renditions all seem to be “in good fun” with a “wink and a nod”.

The song, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” has been covered by some of the most famous in the music business. According to Wikipedia, the song was first sung in the movie Neptune’s Daughter by Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams. In the same movie, Red Skelton and Betty Garrett also sing this “with the roles of wolf and mouse reversed” (telling language!). Since then, among others, it has been sung by Louis Jordan and Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis and Carmen McRae, Dean Martin and a female chorus, Ray Charles and Betty Carter (later also with Dionne Warwick), and more recently by James Taylor and Natalie Cole, and Seth MacFarlane and Sara Bareilles.

When you get past the performers and listen to the lyrics, the song is truly disturbing. It is a song about unwelcomed seduction. The female singer says the following at different points in the song, “I really can’t stay”, “I’ve got to go away”, “I ought to say no, no, no, sir”, “I simply must go”, “The answer is no” (notice the intensification of the “No” as the song progresses). But “no” is not accepted as “no” in this song. The man doesn’t lend his coat and escort the woman on a cold night back to her parents. He continues to pressure in these phrases that intensify from “listen to the fireplace roar” to “what’s the sense in hurting my pride” to “Gosh your lips look so delicious” to “how can you do this thing to me?” Even more insidious is the use of alcohol and perhaps a doctored drink (“Say what’s in this drink?”) to break down the woman’s resistance.

All this seems like it is just in “good fun” except that it isn’t. It is the script that is replayed in the acquaintance rape scenarios that occur over and over not only in our society but in many parts of the world. It is a script that doesn’t respect “no”, that doesn’t flinch at using alcohol to impair judgment, and tells a story that has an ending that says, “she really consented after all” as the singers in unison sing “Baby it’s cold outside.”

Another question that occurs to me is, what does this have to do with Christmas? What does a song that celebrates seduction and, implicitly, rape have to do with the Son of God who became the Savior of the world, other than by illustrating what needs redeeming? Even if Christmas is just a secular holiday for you, what does this have to do with any kind of “spirit of giving” other than the fact that “she gives in and he takes” (to put it bluntly)?

What can be done? Well to start, we could ask radio stations to remove any version of this song from their playlists. We could refuse to buy any selection of Christmas music that includes this song. And we could send a message to performers to find some other material for duets. Whatever we think Christmas means, I think we can all agree that it is not a celebration of rape. Let’s retire this song.


Some of My Favorite Advent and Christmas Carols

This is a season of singing! Of course, the interesting question is, what is there to sing about but I will leave that to another blog. I thought I might share some of the Christmas music I love the most. This is in no particular order except what comes to mind.

1. O Come, O Come Emmanuel. This is properly an Advent song, that longs for the coming of “God with us” and the very music speaks of both longing and the great joy that Emmanuel has come.

2. What Child is This? The tune of “Greensleeves” is part of the wonder of this song, but only part. The other part is the words, the first part of which ask a question of wonder about this child and the second declare the greatness clothed in the garb of the babe.

3. Joy to the World! This Isaac Watts carol with music by Lowell Mason (and part from G. F. Handel) captures in music the tremendous thing that has occurred in the coming of the Christ. Here is verse 4:

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

4. I must include Silent Night not only for the wonderful story of this carol’s composition but also the memories of singing this for most of my life at candlelight services.

5. Of the Father’s Love Begotten is a chant whose words date back to the 4th century and explore the wonder of the incarnation. More recently Caldwell & Ivory wove this song into their Hope for Resolution which Capriccio has had the chance to sing at our Christmas concert a couple years ago and several times since.

And some lesser know carols:

6. Thou Who Wast Rich was written by Frank Houghton to a French Carol melody. Here is the first verse:

Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love’s sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love’s sake becomes poor.

There are “covers” of this song on YouTube by contemporary artists, not all which acknowledge the authorship and none of which are particularly satisfying. You can find the lyrics to the song and a midi file here.

7. Lo! How a Rose E’er Blooming is a German carol (my ethnic heritage!) and likens the infant Christ to an ever blooming Rose drawing from the prophecy of Isaiah 11:1 that ‘a shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse.”

8. Who Comes this Night is a contemporary carol written a few years ago by David Grusin, the jazz musician and performed by James Taylor on his Christmas album.  You can listen to a choral version of this here.

9. A few years ago Capriccio sang The Darkest Midnight in December written by Stephen Main.  Here is a recording I listened to many times as I practiced this music.

10. And just yesterday we sang another piece I’ve come to love, What Sweeter Music by John Leavitt. Here is a link from Stanton Music’s website (a great source of sheet music located right here in Columbus!).

What are some of the songs you most love to hear and sing at this time of the year?