The 12 Rules of Christmas Carols

Admit it.  You wish you’d just finished writing the definitive current-day Christmas Carol.  Something timely and special that everyone will eventually detest after hearing it for the 100th time over the years. 
Regardless, writing a catchy American Christmas Tune seems to defeat the usual melodic mortality that accompanies pop songs.  Wouldn’t you agree, Brenda and Burl?
So in support of your quest, here are a few suggestions.  Take them to heart, and your success is assured.


1) Simple, simple words.  Jingle all the way. At most, use 3rd grade vernacular to wish us a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. 

 2) Catchy melody that anyone can hum.  Your task is to create an earworm that will last at least until the New Year.  Bonus points if your victims cannot remove it until Easter.

 3) Nonsense words.  Fa la la la lah, la la la lah!  Both rhythmically distinctive and easy to remember. Or extend a syllable. Glorrrrrr-or-or-or-or-oooo-or-or-or-or-oooo-or-or-or-or-oor-ee-yah!

Did Van Morrison write this?

4) Use bells.  Belltones always set the stage for our image of Christmas.  Use silver bells if you can afford them.
5) Make up words for specific rhyming needs, but don’t get carried away.  Things like “mistletoeing” work, but don’t overdo it.
Golf course trees
Do you feel the chill?
6) Use Images of snow and cold, even though your song will be sung in Memphis and Poway, a town in the hills above San Diego.  Accurate meteorology is discouraged. But don’t worry, southern dwellers. The song’s images only project the Christmas aura, not a harbinger of global cooling.  But you need to know that it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

6) Create or invoke characters to augment your story and help your rhymes.  Parson Brown, Frosty, Rudolph, Harking Harold the singer, drummer boys…any sympathetic soul who helps tell the story.

Angel ornament


6) Repeat words, and don’t use too many.  No one knows the second verse to “We Three Kings of Orient Are”.  Is there one? Yes, and the words are not “Tried to smoke a rubber cigar…” 

7) Gay is OK.  Everyone wants to be gay in Christmas Carols.  In fact, there is a glaring need for a few really Gay Christmas Carols, double entendre or not.  And hey, yesterday and today, “gay” rhymes with sleigh, Christmas buffet, Blue Jay, Cabernet, and Papier-mache, eh?  But you need to avoid slay, D-Day, ashtray, doomsday, radioactive decay, m’aider, and especially Green Bay, or you’ll alienate everyone in Detroit, Chicago, and the Twin Cities.

7) A few words of non-English language can help, or you can use a foreign sounding name.  (Coincidentally, Felix Navidad was a teammate of mine long ago. He was a solid midfielder.)

7) Encourage good behavior.  You can even invoke creepy surveillance in a good cause.  Sorry Mr. Zuckerberg, you can’t take credit for this concept. Santa was into big data long before you even thought about spying on us.

8) Be inclusive.  Make the carol accessible to all.  And expect your listeners to understand your words with the best possible interpretation.  “White Christmas” is not a racist anthem.

8) Invoke memories.  They don’t need to be real.  Very few have roasted chestnuts on an open fire, particularly since the American Chestnut blight beset the trees over 100 years ago.  Yes, you can get Chinese Chestnuts, but it’s just not the same.


Santa ornament

Not all that fat in this rendition.

9) Disregard the laws of physics.  No matter how small the reindeer may be, they’re still heavier than air.  No adult male can get down a chimney flue, and especially not a fat one. Covering the globe in one night is impossible.  We don’t care.

9) Allusions to desire are permitted.  Even infidelity. Acquiring two front teeth is a noble goal, even while watching your mother’s dalliance with a brightly costumed stranger.

9) We already have one “cumulative verse” carol.  We don’t need another. So forget writing about the 15 days of package delivery, or counting down the advent calendar.

9) Be sure to be insanely, irrationally happy.  Invoke a Christmas that is peaceful, unhurried, harmonious, and without stress. In other words, nothing like actual experience.  Sorry, Kinks and John Lennon, though we love your music, your Christmas efforts are just too dark.  Don’t rob us of our illusions. But there are exceptions. If the dark stuff is for comedic effect, then it’s OK to run Grandma over.


Angel Puppy

Puppies and angels.
Can it get any better?

10) Go heavy on the schmaltz.  And since this yiddish word perfectly captures this facet of Christmas Carols, why not a Jewish Carol?  Jesus was a Jew, right? Don’t let the Gentiles have all the fun!

11) Don’t discount religious carols, even though some of the above rules may not apply.  After all, as I’m sure you’ve heard, Jesus is actually the reason for the season. Franz Xaver Gruber wrote “Stille Nacht” over 200 years ago!  Not a bad lifetime for a tune.  

12) “What Child Is This?” appeared in 1865, when William Chatterton Dix adapted “Greensleeves” to Christmas, pointing out another excellent technique.  Don’t be afraid to use existing melodies, particularly if their copyright protection has expired.

There you have it.  I know I speak for everyone in saying that we can’t wait to hear your creation.  And as soon as it gets figured out, we’ll discuss how to publicize your splendid creation.  Could you please forward Mariah Carey’s email address?

And God rest ye, Merry Gentlereaders.