The Twelve Songs of Christmas: “Merry Christmas From the Family” (Jill Sobule)

Today we welcome a brand new guest author, Lorfimus Prime. Who happens to be my father. The name probably gave that away.

When I was growing up holiday music on contemporary radio consisted of Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” Bobby Helms’ “Jingle Bell Rock,” and those singing chipmunks yearning for that elusive hula hoop. After decades of those sappy upbeat ear candy confections what a holiday treat wrapped in foil and tied with a bright red bow was Jill Sobule’s “Merry Christmas from the Family.” No partridges in pear trees perched here.

Written and originally recorded in 1994 by alternative country artist Robert Earl Keen, “Merry Christmas from the Family” is the tale of the dysfunctional holiday gathering of a dysfunctional extended family. Folk rocker Sobule contributed her version of the song as a track on the You Sleigh Me anthology of alternative Christmas songs which was a fundraiser for Hale House, an agency devoted to the care of babies born with drug or alcohol addictions or infected with HIV.

The song certainly includes all of the trappings of a traditional yuletide celebration: homemade eggnog, “The First Noel,” carving the turkey, turning the ballgame on. We are forewarned, however, from the opening line that we are not embarking on a trip over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house. “Mom got drunk and Dad got drunk at our Christmas party,” brother Ken arriving with his third wife and assorted kids from his two previous spouses, and the arrival of little sister with her new Mexican boyfriend about whom the family doesn’t know what to think. Trips to the convenience store to pick up items essential to a holiday celebration like an extension cord, ice, and a can of fake snow, also call for items that are potentially essential, but that are also decidedly not holiday song friendly: Marlboro Lights, a box of tampons, Salem Lights, and a can of bean dip.

Fred and Rita arrive, plug in their motor home, and blow the Christmas lights. No matter, their host is still trying to recall how she is related to them. Fortunately cousin David knows how to fix the lights and the family rejoices on the front lawn with a rendition of “Silent Night.”

“Merry Christmas from the Family” is perhaps simply a tongue in cheek nod to the trite conventions of well worn holiday chestnuts, or perhaps it is a bit more cerebral. What family doesn’t have relatives show up with unexpected significant others, or kin who drink and smoke too much, yet when all is said and done still end up proclaiming “Feliz Navidad” to one and all?

Unfortunately, Sobule’s version of the song is not available on Spotify. For the sake of completion I’ve substituted the original Robert Earl Keen version, but be warned that it’s very different from the version covered here. — Jorfimus Prime

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