Christmas Wrapping

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Why isn’t there an “Official” video for this song?

Every Christmas I get  the Waitresses’ Christmas Wrapping stuck in my head like a Manchurian Candidate on the Queen of Diamonds. I’m surprised there’s not an “official video” for it somewhere on the broad expanse of the worldwide web (though there are a few fun ones like the Lightorama).

It’s a great song because it’s great prose that captures the frenetic pace of the holidays in the city where it seems even the lights blink at breakneck speeds. It captures the “modern” mood of the holiday season – Not devoid of sentiment or spirit but acknowledging the pressures and the stress while avoiding being cynical or mean spirited.

Where a song like I’ll Be Home for Christmas espouses the desire for the company of loved ones, Christmas Wrappings wants some downtime – “me” time – alone time – to rest and recuperate from the challenges of another year end.

It’s a New Yorker’s Christmas anthem. It doesn’t attack the holiday or bemoan it – It speaks to the exhaustion that comes with celebrating the yuletide. John Petrick quotes Chris Butler (the song’s creator):

"Everybody I knew in New York was running around like a bunch of fiends," he says of Christmases back around the time he moved from his native Ohio to New York City and formed the Waitresses. "It wasn’t about joy. It was something to cope with."

It’s a punk rocker’s Christmas Song – written in a week in the back of a cab and recorded in two days in August. Composed like the Frankenstein monster from bit parts in Chris Butler’s “riff pile” –

from the road in August 1981, exhausted, discouraged and not exactly in the Christmas spirit. Butler wrote Christmas Wrapping in about a week, put together from what he calls his "riff pile" – cassettes with bits and pieces of songs he wrote, for a rainy day. Some of the lyrics were written in the cab, en route to the studio. He credits his fellow musicians with adding brilliant flourishes to his basic musical arrangement. And, of course, he credits Donahue – the least experienced band member with the highest visibility.

It’s more than great writing and catchy composition. The song doesn’t work without Patty Donahue’s pragmatic speak-sing rap – Aloof – Disengaged – Frenetic – Tough – New York.

No one has sung: “Oh damn! Guess what I forgot?” like Patty Donahue has. That part of the song is probably my favorite:

A&P has provided me
with the world’s smallest turkey
Already in the oven, nice and hot
Oh damn! Guess what I forgot?

In addition to setting up the song’s “Happy Ending,” I think it is the part of the song that most poignantly captures the mood of the holidays for me.

I always thought “A&P has provided me with the world’s smallest turkey” was “A&P has pride in me” which I thought was a reference to one of their commercials (which made it more meaningful for me). Despite my bad ears and years of inaccurate renditions, whether its “provide” or “pride", its still a great line that speaks to wants versus needs.

It isn’t immediately obvious from the words alone but the way Patty sings it – her signature tone of voice – gives it this sort of self-deprecating sarcastic air without being mean or self pitying.

“Already in the oven, nice and hot – Oh damn! Guess what I forgot?” speaks to that notion that it is never quite right – never the way you pictured it – despite the best laid plans and the best intentions there is always something that would make it a little better.

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Butler: “They did it, I’m grateful, and it’s going to buy my kid the greatest associate’s degree money can buy.”

Chris says:

"I winced," he says, when he found out they (Spice Girls) wanted to do it. "At the time, I was working in experimental music with Television’s Richard Lloyd, and the most commercial band of the day covers this 290-year-old song? Talk about a mind (expletive). Is it any good? Probably not. But who cares? They did it, I’m grateful, and it’s going to buy my kid the greatest associate’s degree money can buy."

The Waitresses’ Christmas Wrapping is a 20th Century holiday classic that is very relatable in a world where you are always five minutes late for something no matter how great or small. It’s about how hard it is to feel complete in a city where there is always something to do.

It was listed as #87 on Billboard’s Top 100 Christmas songs for 2009.

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