* Home * Blog * Book *

Friday, December 21, 2012

Day 21 - "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" by Fred Astaire - 25 Days of Christmas Angst

Add caption
Like yesterday's song, "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" seemed to be one of the Christmas carols that we performed every year in our elementary level Christmas program.

I was first introduced to it, however, through the Rankin-Bass stop motion TV special of the same name.  In the show, Fred Astaire sings the song as the closing of the show.  You can see this segment of the show here: 
http://youtu.be/9jQy_ppY2bI.

The song was written and first performed in 1934 and furthers the Santa Claus story that Clement Clark Moore established (discussed in yesterday's post as well).

There have been many performances of this song including some with awkward choreography and off-key singing by my classmates in grade school.

I am interested in the Astaire version of the song because it is part of the TV special.  That show continued to develop and explain the mythology surrounding Santa Claus.  For example, the flying reindeer came about because Kris Kringle (a.k.a. Santa Claus) was given magic kernels of corn by a mostly used up wizard.

Preview the remaining days of angst or review the previous days here:   

I love the way this show establishes a back story for our modern Santa Claus.  What stands out about the song "Santa Claus is Coming To Town" and the TV special of the same name is that they, in a very innocent way, ignore the most unsettling aspect of the Santa myth.

Astaire's performance of the song happens at the very end of the show after a monologue that touches on the aspect of Claus that is troubling:

"Poor misguided folks.  They missed the whole point.  Lots of unhappiness...maybe so.  But doesn't Santa take a little bit of that unhappiness away?  Doesn't a smile on Christmas morning scratch out a tear cried on a Saturday?  Not much maybe.  But what would happen if we all tried to be like Santa and learned to give as only he can give?  Of ourselves, our talents, our love, and our hearts.  Maybe if we can all learn Santa's beautiful lesson...maybe there would finally be peace on earth and good will toward men."

No, not this part.  this part of Astaire's monologue expresses everything about Santa that is good and explains how this character can be a good role model.

It is the last three lines of the monologue that change everything:

"Hey, its getting late and I've got these letters to deliver.   And you better be getting home too.  And remember behave yourselves because Santa can still look into his magic snow ball and see just what you are up to."

Santa is watching you.  HE...IS...WATCHING...YOU.  YOU ARE BEING WATCHED!

Part of the Santa mythology is about giving rowdy children a reason to behave.  But the following lines in the song are disturbing:
He sees you when you're sleepin'
He knows when you're a wake
I know there is nothing wicked or evil intended by this but it is still the stuff that nightmares are made of.  And then there is the judgmental side to Claus:
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake
Oh! You better watch out,
Or what?  Is this only about not getting presents?  As explained in the This American Life episode linked to yesterday, Saint Nicholas was envisioned to be a person who punishes just as much as he rewards.  I believe that this song taps into the remnants of that trait.

In this way, Santa Claus has become a secular version of God; he judges you and rewards you based on your behavior.  He is always watching you and is capable of small bits of magic and great acts of generosity.  And the greatest punishment is to be ignored by him.

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town 
as performed by Fred Astaire in the TV special

Santa Claus is coming to town

You better watch out, you better not cry
Better not pout, I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is comin' to town
He's making a list and checking it twice
He's gonna find out who's naughty and nice
Santa Claus is comin' to town

He sees you when you're sleepin'
He knows when you're a wake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake
Oh! You better watch out, you better not cry
Better not pout, I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is comin' to town

With little tin horns and little toy drums
Rooty toot toots and rummy tum tums
Santa Claus is comin' to town
And curly head dolls that toddle and coo
Elephants, boats, and kiddie cars too
Santa Claus is comin' to town

Then kids in Girl and Boy land will have a jubilee
They're gonna build a Toyland all around the Christmas tree
So! You better watch out, you better not cry
Better not pout, I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is comin'
Santa Claus is comin'
Santa Claus is comin' to town

Resources:

Lyrics
http://www.songmeanings.net/songs/view/3530822107858966956/

on IMDB
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0066327/

"Santa Claus Is Coming To Town"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Claus_Is_Coming_to_Town

"Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (TV Special)"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Claus_Is_Comin%27_to_Town_%28TV_special%29
 

25 Days Of Christmas Angst
Day Song Download/Purchase Info
21 "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" by Fred Astaire (from the stop motion classic Santa Claus is Coming to Town) Buy the DVD:

Amazon Instant Streaming:
Read my blog post for more about this song.
Who is this "Claus" and why is he coming to my town? Did TSA check him out?

Click this link to preview the remaining days of angst or review the previous days:  http://www.carneylentz.com/p/25-days-of-christmas-angst.html
Post a Comment