ComPost Live with Alexandra Petri

Dec 11, 2018

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Happy Tuesday, all! Let’s roll!

I wanted to say thank you for compiling your ranking of Christmas songs. Your order is hilariously, randomly wrong, but I really appreciate the effort. I would have given up around #67.

Thank you! I got a note from my editor while writing that said “you forgot 42-50, was this on purpose?”

Did you listen to all 100 songs for research purposes before composing your list? At what point does the list transition from songs you dislike to songs you like? And are we to assume that any song not on your list is even worse, in your opinion, than the No. 100 song? (I would put Christmas Wrapping, by The Waitresses, and Christmas in Hollis, by Run-DMC, near the top of my list, but you apparently despise them.)

No, I forgot several songs I really love — the absurd novelty Christmas Eve In Washington, Christmas in Hollis, and Here We Come A-Wassailing! It bears no reflection whatsoever on their quality. 

I have a different perspective because I ring handbells (you know, the ones you hear in the Hershey's Kiss commercial ringing "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" *whew*). Naturally, I have rung ALL of the bell songs, ecclesiastical and secular, because every self-respecting bell choir can do at least a version of Jingle Bells, and the better ones can do Carol of the Bells. The choir I was with most recently even did a suite of Peanuts tunes (Linus and Lucy was always the favorite, but the whole thing got a lot of smiles). However, I learned to truly dislike "Sleigh Ride." Without the words, that is a long, repetitive song. I mean, how long is this sleigh ride? Where are they going, Siberia?!! And it's just so RELENTLESSLY PERKY!!! Give me Mary's Boy Child any time, where we can hit the bells with mallets, emulating the sounds of steel drums-- that's now one of my favorites!

This is a great perspective to have on Christmas songs! I also used to ring a bell, and it just gave me a deep sense of my own rhythmic inadequacy. We kept volunteering to perform at places where people’s hearing was not great or they seemed otherwise distracted. I can see how Sleigh Ride would cloy.

This week my YouTube feed reminded me about "Father Christmas" by the Kinks ("Father Christmas, Give us some money, Don't mess around with those silly toys"). An underappreciated classic!

I also learned this week about the novelty songs Honky The Christmas Goose (Canada) and Six White Boomers (Australia), which is currently stuck in my head. Maybe the Kinks will help!

Missed the chat last week, so chiming in late with my entry. Billy's Christmas Wish - Dad is in jail for shooting mom's boyfriend, mom is a barmaid who lives with an abusive Mr. Brown, and then Billy dies on Santa's lap. Fun for all!

Oh nooooooooo.

Here is one of the funniest Christmas songs ever - "Twelve Days Til Christmas" from the musical "She Loves Me". It takes place in a department store and the shoppers become more and more frantic as the days count down to the 24th. My favorite lyric: "Why did we ever delay so long - who can recall? Some of the family may not get a Christmas gift at all." Surely, this is an overlooked gem!

I would say as a broad blanket statement (not to be confused with a Snuggie, a statement blanket) that the best way to have songs recommended to you is to publish what appears to be a complete-ish list! 

My wife is seriously addicted, and I love her, so I tend to be in the room when these trite exercises in faux-nostalgia are playing. I also abhor amateur singing, and I've noticed that the carolers rarely go more than a few seconds into the songs before the scintillating dialogue resumes. My theory is that (a) there is a merciful God, and (b) the no-budget producers would have to pay ASCAP or somebody if they use more than eight bars of the song. Any thoughts?

Good question! I wonder how many carols are in the public domain, though!

Could you give a shout-out to one of your biggest fans and loyal chatters who is having shoulder surgery tomorrow? His name is Mark! :-)

Hi, Mark! Hope everything goes smoothly tomorrow and can’t wait to see you and your shoulder back in the chat!

Loved the carol compilation and agree with most of your rankings--though as a certified lifelong Grinch who also happens to be a church organist, there is no carol I despise so much as "Silent Night," which is, of course, inescapable. Anyway, I'm writing to ask which of the two tunes you prefer for "Away in a Manger." Same question for "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night." And can you name the carol for which there are THREE tunes--American, English and Welsh?

 I like the one that goes Away in A-A manger, no-o crib for a bed/the little lord Jesus la-ay down his sweet head, hm, this is hard to do with just text. Where the crib is high. 

 I’m drawing a blank! Is it the Friendly Beasts? Chatters?

Elf's Lament. No opinion? Missed it?

The one emerging consensus is that I have omitted all the good songs and the ones that are there are in the wrong order! I am not sure I’m familiar with Elf’s Lament, but I’ll listen right now and report back! 

I was in a Big Box Store the other day and they played an INSTRUMENTAL version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas". It's bad enough *with* vocals, but without? It's worse than pointless.

I think the Christmas Shoes song has to beat the Little Drummer Boy for worst-- I practically break the radio changing the station whenever it comes on. As for best, if you've never heard Ray Stevens version of Santa Claus Is Watching You, do yourself a favor...

No, this is the only opinion I stand by! One is a ubiquitous scourge and the other one is only on the stations that still suffer it to be played. I agree that it is bad, but it loses points for not being omnipresent. 

Also, the Elf’s Lament was great but its only immediate impact stylistically and content-wise was to make me realize I could have put any song from RENT on this list.

Can't believe no one on the chat has mentioned the 3 best Christmas songs: 3. "Fairytale of New York" by The Pogues 2. John Prine's Christmas song (title escapes me here at work) 1. And the favorite in our house, Robert Earl Keen's "Merry Christmas from the Family" We sing it all year round.

Oh those Protectors of Youth, now the CDC is warning about the dangers of eating raw cookie dough, even without any eggs. What next?

What is the danger without eggs? Aren’t there entire cafes dedicated to this premise?

Does Australia have its own version of the Twelve Days of Christmas? Because that's what this title sounds like. "...and a jumbu-u-u-ck in a billabong."

I agree that is what it sounds like! But it is actually a story song about a young Joey who is lost and sees Santa’s sleigh being dragged through the blazing sun by six white boomers! 

someone in the comments to your post mentioned the song Crabs for Christmas as the worst holiday song. I actually listened to it and my ears will never be the same. However I still maintain that Grandma got Run Over by a Reindeer is worse as it is var more popular than Crabs.

Wow I... loved the crabs song? It’s so regionally specific! 

(weird phrase since hunted meat can't be kosher, but whatever) but I went to a concert in DC a few years ago with a Florida based group called Seraphic Fire. They sang "Jesus Christ the Apple Tree" as a filler in the program. It is a specialty of theirs since they do it as a cannon with one voice per part and stand around the edges of the space as they do it. The audience is then surrounded by the sound. I like it because it is beautiful (though I think the director slows it down a bit too much right after the initial solo). Also, I kind of like that the whole thing is a metaphor, not a simile. Jesus isn't like an apple tree. He IS an apple tree. I'm not sure how. The song does not explain it. Here is a link to one of their performances of this carol:

Oh, I like this one! I agree that the best thing about it is how hard it goes with its metaphor. Doesn’t bother listing things they have in common. Doesn’t make a case. Leaves you to figure out if this is all an allusion to original sin and if so, how that works. Just keeps repeating its assertion that Jesus is an apple tree.

The arrangements are not. So unless they are really just the actors in the movie singing the bare bones song and not using any instrumentation at all, they could get stuck. Also, I think some of the carols are more recent than people realize. Not anything that has had time to sneak into English from German, but more than we probably would guess.

"Away In A Manger" and one of those tunes is "Flow Gently, Sweet Afton."

Oh, sneaky! It was right in front of my eyes the whole time!

I saw the new Grinch movie (don't waste your time or money). What struck me, though, was that they included some actual, religious carols (sung aggressively, ala West Side Story, which was amusing, but, still). Assuming the Whos live on another planet, established in Horton Hears a Who, how would they know these carols? And, yes, I realize I am overlooking the entire issue of how would they have Christmas in the first place.

I have never thought about this before but I am strongly on Team For The Who’s, Christmas Is A Fully Pagan Holiday. 

The CDC is alleging that raw flour can be contaminated with Escherichia coli.

Well, that explains. I so seldom see E. coli spelled out! Escherichia would be a nice name for the villain in a novel about girls’ boarding schools. 

on the holiday festivities at this point. Seems a little more frantic than usual to me. Perhaps because this has the possibility of being a really good year with the extra weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas? Maybe it is just because there is more e-mail involved, because, the retailers figure "why not?" I mean, I get that some people will find a need to purchase a Star Wars Death Star disco ball. But I hardly think that the need is urgent in many. And it doesn't seem like a real Christmas thing. Maybe you need it for your May the 4th party, but Christmas?

Is it being sold as a Death Star for the top of the tree? Because that might make sense...

James Lileks, from several years ago. Go here: and look for "bloodmas" (paragraph break) Sample: "The red-nosed one stood in the stable door, eyes wide as wagon wheels, gore-flecked foam gushing from his mouth, the entrails of our friends wrapped around his antlers like string in a cat’s cradle."

Is Rudolph... Beowulf?

Last night on Jimmy Kimmel they had several millennials grapple with the challenges of opening a can of tuna. LINK

Did they succeed? Did they try having an expectant cat nearby? I’ve always found that powerfully motivating.

Is the one where she says "Everybody's waiting for the man with a bag ..." No one calls Santa that! And the melody is terrible! Gahhhh! Just had to get that off my chest. I, too, found your list hilarious and incorrect. (Did you see that Marco Rubio was not a fan? He called it Fake News ... I couldn't tell if he was trying for sarcasm or not but either way he failed.)

The Man With A Bag sounds like how someone who was worried about alluding to Santa’s age or weight would describe him. “Which one is Santa?” “He’s uh. He’s. The Man With A Bag!” 

(OP here) Ah, I'd forgotten about the "Afton" tune for Away in a Manger since it's no longer in any U.S. hymnal that I know about. But the one I had in mind was "O Little Town of Bethlehem." The original tune, "St. Louis," is American and the one most of us know best. Ralph Vaughan Williams adapted an English folk tune, "Forest Green," to go with it for the 1906 English Hymnal. And then Henry Walford Davies came up with his own tune (unoriginally dubbed "Christmas Carol,") which is lovely but too hard to sing.

Oh wow! Bonus tunes for all! 

Now I want to hear the Davies tune. Maybe I can spring it on people the next time they gather around the piano to sing carols.

Or your pet collie.

Wow, yes, ten festive chat points! It would be fun to see which vets gave you the stink-eye immediately.

Now I need one. Right now!

Feh. No one talks about re-making A Charlie Brown Christmas, so why is the classic cartoon Grinch not similarly sacrosanct? I refuse to watch any new Grinches. A Christmas Carol, though, is fair game; one year we sat in front of Turner Classic Movies and watched every CC ever filmed.

How many are there? That sounds like it could have taken days!

Is Lileks the same person who translated "Little Bunny Foo-Foo" into Norse, and gave an English version with Freya Queen of the Vanir Folk reproving the bunny?

I immediately see, in my mind's eye, water flowing uphill and birds turning into fish. Speaking of collies, though, I knew someone who named his pet collie Flower.

There are a lot of good collie names, it turns out. I hope Schwarzenegger named his collie Fornia.

I'm an old radio fan and Every Year on the WAMU old radio show, they play a Duffy's Tavern Christmas episode. They find Christmas music on every station on the radio, but it's always the same lame version of "Silent Night." I guess anything else would have cost.

Sorry, the best one is and always will be the one with Reginald Owen from 1938. The original A Star Is Born from 1937 is also the best.

You don’t like the creepy CGI Star is Born with Jim Carrey?

Barenaked Ladies/Sarah MacLachlan version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen medley. It is the cut-off ending that makes it perfect. It's like the sound engineer in the recording booth couldn't stand any more Christmas music and just flipped the switch.

I am digging it so far! And both of the songs they chose to, er, meddle, are ones I like! 

Weighs over 2 pounds so I don't think it is for the top of the tree.

They might have to upgrade that from disco to wrecking. 

I disagree with putting Silent Night so low, but people of goodwill can do so amicably, I hope. But why no love for Crabs for Christmas?

So cool that the singers had a cannon. Every Christmas song should fire off a cannon.

Frankly the fact that Tchaikovsky didn’t work one into The Nutcracker is an almost unforgivable oversight on his part. 

Why Dolly is on The Island of Misfit Toys?

What are your theories? It’s been a while since I watched it.

There were two versions made in the 1930s, so it was entertaining to see actors we only knew from their roles as much older actors. So that was about...let's see, eight or nine? That includes modern ones like George C. Scott and Albert Finney. We only watched one per evening, though.

Wow! Seeing a young Albert Finney sounds fun. I am going to pitch that to my family. 

You can also sing O Little Town of Bethlehem to the tune of "House of the Rising Sun". You can thank Bob Rivers for this one.

To continue with the list-bashing theme, how could your third-person imperative song Spotify playlist omit "Let the River Run" from "Working Girl"? WHAT DO YOU HAVE AGAINST JOAN CUSACK?!?


Oh no, I meant the musical Scrooge with Albert Finney. He wasn't young when that was made, although it was quite a while ago. Not as long ago as "Tom Jones," though.

I looked that up this week. The writers say she's there because she has low self-esteem and considers herself unlovable.

That seems heavy! (Note: originally I wrote “that seems hefty” and it took me, alarmingly, a few moments to realize that this was not in fact the word I wanted.) 

How didn't this crack the list? You can't possibly imply that McCartney's hokey "Wonderful Christmas Time" (which you rightfully drag over the coals) is better?? That's an epic Lennon vs. McCartney statement if so.

It’s there! It’s near the top! Did I get the name wrong? I like the AAAAAAA’s. 

I would pin it down to about 15 versions that "regularly" show up on various channels around the holidays. Don't forget Jean Luc Picard did one a few years ago. Then there are the fun ones like Mr. Magoo, Flintstones, Muppets (really fun), Bugs Bunny, etc. They all work in their own way.

I even have a soft spot for the Disney one! 

...and Albert Finney was Tom Jones only seven years before he was Scrooge. Scrooge was nearly fifty years ago!


But have you heard the All I Want for Christmas/Black Parade mashup? Because it's glorious. LINK

Wow, I’m really enjoying this so far! 

Your wish is my command, Alexandra! Here's the sheet music (scroll to the second verse, which has the harmony).  LINK And here's a YouTube performance (the carol starts about a minute in): LINK Merry Christmas, Carol! (sorry)

Thank you! 


Some songs should be added to the Christmas canon. Other songs should be added to a Christmas cannon and shot out of it.

I'm sorry. It's NOT the one with Reginald Owen (although that one is OK). It's got to be the one with crazy but brilliant Alistair Sim as "Scrooge" (as the film is titled in the UK). Young Patrick MacNee (the TV version of The Avengers) plays Young Marley. And Michael Hordern is the Ghost of Marley. It's the best!

Jesus is an apple tree because he's (a) beautiful, but more beautiful than any earth tree, (b) he brings more happiness and pleasure than apple trees, (c) he provides more shade (the good kind) than an apple tree, (d) he feeds you, like with apples. You could probably attribute each verse to a divine virtue (truth, salvation, etc.) but it's actually right there.

No other apple tree can hope to compete! 

This tune also works delightfully for "Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer"!

"The Case of the Man with the Sack" is a Christmas mystery story by Margery Allingham. It's OK, but not as good as "A Necklace of Pearls" by Dorothy Sayers.

I think The Man With The Sack has a somewhat nicer ring to it than the Man With The Bag. That sounds like an intriguing mystery! Is Santa being accused of burglary? Was there a murder? 

Sounds like Athena getting Athens named after her. She & Poseidon each wanted the city and each gave a gift to the citizens. Poseidon's was a horse, Athena's was an olive tree. Her gift was deemed much more useful.

I thought Poseidon gave them a spring but the spring only spouted salt water, whereas the olive tree made olives which could turn into oil and also supplied wood!

I'd be fine with never hearing "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" ever again, but whenever I hear a TV commercial with an otherwise less-objectionable Christmas carol rewritten to sell something, THAT makes me want to hit people in the face with a thatch rake. Because that's the real message of Jesus, right? "Buy fried chicken"? GAAAAAAAAAAAAH

We wish you a happy Honda days! Happy Honda Days to you! 

"Beavis and Butthead Do Christmas" clearly belongs among the best retellings of the beloved classic. It's a little hard-to-find anymore, but well worth the effort.

In the Kay Starr song, everybody's waiting for the man with the bag. Presumably they are anxious for the arrival of the person bringing them presents, but I now visualize that "they" are Poirot, the Inspector, Miss Marple, and the vicar waiting for the burglar to return to the scene of the crime.

That is a delightful visual to end the chat on, so I think I will let us go here! I will be back next week, although the week after I will be off! In the interim, see you on the blog ( and Twitter (@petridishes)! 

Which law did That Duck! break?

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