December 23rd, 2008
11:07 AM ET
The Waitresses’ "Christmas Wrapping" may be the most unlikely of Christmas tunes, a New Wave-infused song that has become a holiday standard. It's a six-minute short story of a young woman who opts to sit out the holiday season - in terms of length, practically the "American Pie" or "Stairway to Heaven" of holiday entries.
Even its origins are offbeat. In 1981, the band -– best known for "I Know What Boys Like" –- had to contribute to a Christmas album at the request of its record label president. The group was reluctant; songwriter Chris Butler even penned some of the lyrics in a cab on the way to the recording studio. In August. And the title isn’t even part of the song’s lyrics, but rather a play on words: lead singer Patty Donahue spits the lyrics out so fast, she practically raps them.
But, in an instance of life imitating art, the song -– like the guy the singer is pursuing in its lyrics - stuck around.
Throughout “Christmas Wrapping,” Donahue -– "a rough, tough girl," Butler remembered of the late singer in a 2005 interview - laments over a missed opportunity regarding a guy she’s been "chasing all year." The pair had made various attempts to go out on a date throughout the year but a number of obstacles kept them apart, namely sunburn, car trouble and scheduling woes. But (spoiler alert!) with a little Christmas magic, she runs into the guy while buying cranberries at a grocery store on Christmas Eve.
I first heard the song during the holiday season of 1995, when I was in high school working at a Gap Kids in a suburban mall. Grunge was still very much en vogue and plaid flannel covered the shelves, so the holiday mix tape that blared from our speakers was edgy as well. It included Christmas songs from the Eels, Annie Lennox, and - yes - “Christmas Wrapping.”
The song filled me with pleasure. I am a Christmas nerd. Friends say my holiday parties are "like Christmas threw up," I have to see "The Nutcracker" at Lincoln Center every year, and I even had a Christmas-themed wedding last year complete with red plaid taffeta bridesmaid dresses and candy-cane martinis.
And yet, Butler has said he wrote the song because "for years I hated Christmas." All the frenzy he saw, he said, "wasn't about joy. It was something to cope with."
Well, if "Christmas Wrapping" is Butler's proverbial "bah humbug," I'd love to hear his material after he's been visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future - because, ironically, while this holiday gem helped Butler express his feeling about the holidays, it helps me cope with people who don't like Christmas. So thanks, Chris, Patty and the band: “Christmas Wrapping” helps make this time of year.
– Katie McLaughlin, CNN
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