Over the years, we’ve been treated to such colorful holiday fare as “White Christmas” and “Blue Christmas.” My Christmas Song of the Day for December 12 is about another color of holiday – “Green Christmas.”
The group Barenaked Ladies is not bare, nor naked, nor even ladies; they are a male Canadian quartet that came up with their unique name during a spate of boredom at a Bob Dylan concert two of the founding members attended. During the 1990s, the group broke out of its native Canada and became popular in the United States as well; in 1998, their quirky single “One Week,” the rapid-fire lyrics of which mention everything from Bert Kaempfert and LeAnn Rimes to Kurosawa and the Smoking Man from The X-Files, hit #1 on the Billboard singles chart.
Barenaked Ladies never achieved those same heights again on the charts. But that was hardly their final triumph: Today, they are likely best known for their theme song of the popular TV sitcom The Big Bang Theory.
In 2000, they contributed a new song to the soundtrack of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the critically-panned live-action film starring Jim Carrey in the title role. “Green Christmas” tells a tale of someone paying lip service to the holiday season but not really celebrating.
I remember wondering why this was a “green Christmas” when I first heard the song. Most parts of the southern U.S. have a green (i.e., snowless) holiday, but the song still had references to skating and gloves. It didn’t seem to bemoan overcommercialization of the holiday (another possible way to interpret “green Christmas”). Then I finally heard the words of the bridge in context. The singer is green with envy!
All of this activity is happening all around him, but he is envious that he can’t be a part of it. There are few sadder lines in Christmas music than “All this mistletoe, no kiss,” especially if one really longs to partake. Oh yes, the “green” can also refer to the color of the Grinch’s skin, and perhaps envy rather than hatred is his problem with Christmas.
Barenaked Ladies recorded the song three times in quick succession, and I can’t decide which I prefer. The first one, the soundtrack version, is more electric than later versions. They then remade it acoustically for the various-artists collection Maybe This Christmas Too? in 2003. A third recording appeared on their 2004 album Barenaked for the Holidays.
Here’s the 2000 original:
And here’s the third version, from 2004. (I couldn’t find the second version on YouTube.)