What kind of a misanthrope writes a protest song against Christmas? I’ve never figured out how to write in anger and sarcasm and still produce something beautiful. My favorite protest songs are sad ones, like Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
Writing a song in this vein fills me with anxiety, and I had to keep talking myself into recording this one and sharing it with you. Once I got to the studio, I even had to get the engineers to talk me into going through with it. Making good recordings costs time and money, and like my heroes Over the Rhine have written, “I don’t wanna waste your time with music you don’t need.”
Maybe you don’t need this song. Maybe you don’t want to hear about what’s wrong with the world at this time of year. I’m with you. Resisting injustice and the great god Mammon is hard. It wears me out.
But ever since Thanksgiving, I’ve been wrestling with some acute feelings. A few days before the holiday, Lisa Sharon Harper wrote this powerful piece in the Washington Post. It was a lamentation because she couldn’t find a brown-skinned angel ornament to help her young niece celebrate Christmas.
In the context of Lisa’s story, along came Black Friday. I kept asking myself, “How can we use this word ‘black’ to signify a collective experience of buying stuff, in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, when the metaphor of blackness is already quite busy signifying a collective experience of suffering in our nation’s African-American communities?” Black Friday is supposed to be the day of the year when retail businesses leave behind the red ink of financial loss and arrive at the blank ink of annual profit. Turning a profit is a good thing for a business, but Black Friday has always felt to me an ominous moniker for the day when Mammon tears us from our holiday celebrations of hope and family and demands our full, undivided allegiance. Worshipping at the temple of Amazon does not leave much attention-span for the plight of my black, brown, immigrant or Muslim brothers and sisters. If Christmas is not about hope for them and for me, then what is the point? “Blackness” is too important to let it symbolize a crass financial transaction.
My angst has continued as we’ve inched closer to Christmas. The holiday season is one of the most demanding for working musicians, and this year I found myself learning a few of the old standards, like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “White Christmas.” The dream of a snowy Christmas is innocent enough, but I couldn’t sing it in complete purity, with the concepts of “whiteness” and “blackness” so complicated by others’ lived experiences. On top of that, songs like “White Christmas” lean heavily on the African-American jazz tradition, another unpaid debt. (I filled this song with all those dominant 7th chords too, because they’re just lovely).
On top of all of this, over the past year, I’ve had opportunities to read or interview thinkers like Diana Butler Bass or Matt Morris or Willie James Jennings, who all in their own ways have turned my eyes to the way God speaks through creation, outside of the rigid institutions of Christendom, whether through Celtic Druidry or the sunset or African religions decimated by colonialism. As I sat down to write “Jesus, Save Us From Christmas” I couldn’t help but remember those pagan stargazers celebrated by so many of our Christmas carols. If Jesus is really the one, true, universal God the Church makes Him(Her) out to be, then those little baby arms can surely embrace all those who worship in Spirit and in Truth, even if not on the right mountain or in the right building.
Beyond the commerce or sentiment or Christian triumphalism, “Jesus, Save Us From Christmas” is a prayer for wisdom. I don’t have solutions to the problems that vex us. But if we look to the stars and remember how small we are, we just might be able to commune with one another in humility, peace and empathy.
— Jesse James DeConto