Christmas is around the corner! Have you caught the Christmas spirit yet? No? Yeah, me neither. It's okay, though: we've collected the our favorite weird, gory, depressing and otherwise deeply creepy Christmas carols for your listening, um, enjoyment.
You know people who are really into "the Christmas spirit," right? Eggnog cocktails? Bing Crosby? Relentless, inescapable cheeriness, and the rigid enforcement thereof?
What is wrong with these people? Cheeriness is for barbecues. Christmas marks the start of winter, and winter is a harrowing, horrible time. The proper "Christmas spirit" is a recognition that time has passed; cold has descended; your body is weak; and you, like everything around you, like all life on earth, will someday die and become the hard ground. This is not something that is properly encapsulated by "All I Want for Christmas," great a song as that may be.
But all isn't lost! The grand, death-obsessed tradition of Christianity still contains within it some bloody, depressing, sinister classics. I've assembled some below.
Note: We tried to find the best versions possible on YouTube; click on the title to be linked to another version of each carol on Spotify. Also, before you say anything: We know about "Carol of the Bells." Everyone knows about "Carol of the Bells." It just reminds us more of Home Alone than of the forbidding quietus of winter.
Coventry Carol Here's a sweet little number dating back to wonderful Biblical re-enactment "mystery plays" of death-obsessed premodern England. It's a lullaby sung to a child about to be murdered in the Massacre of the Innocents! Sing it to your kids, and then put them to bed with them the wonderful Christmas story of King Herod ordering the death of all young male children in Judea. Talk about a Grinch, am I right?
Adam Lay Ybounden There are a lot of wonderful ways to meditate on the story of Adam and the Fall, but to really do it "Christmas-style" we recommend "Adam Lay Ybounden," which focuses in particular on how Adam was trapped and bound in limbo for 4,000 years, "all... for an apple." Merry Christmas! Don't eat God's apple! God is a prick!
God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen The best thing about "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" is the way the sinister minor-key melody acts as a kind of musical version of an exaggeratedly sarcastic tone of voice: it keeps hinting that it'll end in a pleasant major third... ! t it never does. It's like a song a serial killer would sing! And isn't that the true sprit of Christmas? Menacing, ominous undercurrents to surface-level comfort and joy?
Down in Yon Forest "Hey everyone, gather 'round. See that forest? Well, in the forest is a hall, covered in mourning cloth. And in the hall is a blood-red bed. And next to the bed is a stone. Oh, and under the bed is a fucking river of blood. Anyway, Jesus is here! Check out the full moon!"
Patapan Who on earth could possibly find this song "merry"? (It's French, so... maybe French people?) It sounds like some horrible (in a good way) Village of the Damned thing: dozens of dead-eyed children playing drums to a hair-raising minor-key melody. Best if you imagine an implied "forever" after the line "come be merry while you play."
I Wonder as I Wander Here's a Christmas Carol written by a man who first heard it from a mysterious, "ragged" young Appalachian girl who "repeated [a single line of song] seven times in exchange for a quarter per performance." Nothing creepy about that! Or about the song, which is just someone wandering around, wondering stuff. Jesus stuff.
In the Bleak Midwinter Yeah, most arrangements of this Christina Rossetti poem are pretty and pleasant and not really eerie or unsettling. But no one gets at the soul-wrenching horror of winter like the first verse: "In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan;/Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;/Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,/In the bleak midwinter, long ago." Daaaamnnnnn.
We Three Kings [singing while decorating the Christmas tree with friends] "Myrrh is mine: its bitter perfume/breathes a life of gathering doom./Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,/sealed in a stone-cold tomb." [You turn around. All your friends have hung themselves.]