The mere mention of Christmas prompts so many subliminal connections and evokes such vivid imagery that it's risky referencing it in a non-Christmas song. After all, there are entire industries geared around the holiday season and typically anything and everything Christmas-related gets packed into a couple consumer-driven weeks in December and those weeks alone. (Can you think of the last time you felt compelled to listen to "Jingle Bells" in May?) But when used carefully and in the right context, alluding to Christmas in a song can also go a long way in setting a scene.
Check out our list of a dozen secular, non-holiday songs that get away with throwing in the C-word (the merry one).
There's absolutely nothing festive about 'Brick' — one of the biggest hits from Ben Folds Five's 1997 breakthrough, 'Whatever and Ever Amen.' The first line sets the stage: "6AM, day after Christmas / I throw some clothes on in the dark" then follows the narrator as he goes to pick up his girlfriend. But he isn't going to exchange gifts. Folds later revealed that the song is about taking his high school girlfriend to get an abortion.
Primarily written by guitarist/vocalist Tom DeLonge and bassist/vocalist Mark Hoppus, this uncharacteristically somber track from Blink-182's self-titled 2003 album was reportedly inspired by the Cure's "The Love Cats." Although fans are mixed on whether the song is about a failed relationship or a death, there's no disputing that the line "We can live like Jack and Sally if we want... / and we'll have Halloween on Christmas" is a reference to Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas.
"New York, New York" Ryan Adams
The first song on Ryan Adams' sophomore solo album, 2001's Gold, uses holidays as a way to establish a timetable for the narrative. The first line is "Well I shuffled through the city on the Fourth of July," and he doesn't get to Christmas until the third verse. But the biggest misconception about this song is that it's a love letter to New York City. When Adams sings, "I still love you, New York," he's actually referring to the ex-girlfriend he moved to the Big Apple to be with in 1999.
"No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future"Titus Andronicus
Named after Shakespeare's first tragedy, New Jersey indie punk outfit Titus Andronicus have always embraced their underdog status and that's probably never been more clear than on this rip-roaring cut from 2010's The Monitor. At one point, frontman Patrick Stickles sings "All I want for Christmas is no feelings" and the anti-anthem ends with him repeating the line, "You will always be a loser," 30 times.
"Let's Go to Bed" The Cure
"Let's Go to Bed" marked the Cure's first foray into true pop in 1982, but its lyrics probably shouldn't be taken too literally. Robert Smith wrote the song as a sarcastic reaction to the band's newfound fame following the gloomy full-length, Pornography, and he said the lyrics (including the line "Laughing at the Christmas lights you remember from December") were never meant to make any sense.
"I Will Buy You a New Life"Everclear
Everclear and frontman Art Alexakis have never been fond of subtlety or metaphors (they've got songs called "You Make Me Feel Like a Whore" and "Why I Don't Believe in God"), and this 1997 radio staple is a solid example. When he sings, "I hate those people who love to tell you money is the root of all that kills / They have never been poor, they have never had the joy of a welfare Christmas," he pretty much means exactly what he says.
"One for the Cutters" The Hold Steady
Brooklyn's the Hold Steady create vivid, novel-like stories through the lyricism of frontman Craig Finn and the songs on 2008's Stay Positive continue the tales of characters introduced on earlier albums. The harpsichord-tinged "One for the Cutters" is about a college girl who unintentionally winds up being an accomplice to a murder, culminating in the final line, "But when she came home for Christmas, she just seemed distant and different."
"Straight to Hell"The Clash
By the time the Clash released their fifth album, Combat Rock, in 1982, they had firmly established their reputation for decrying injustice in their native England. But "Straight to Hell" also looked around the world. The second verse and the line "When it's Christmas out in Ho Chi Minh City" is about the aftermath of Vietnam and children there fathered by long-gone American soldiers.
"I Don't Love Anyone" Belle and Sebastian
Although this track from Scotland's Belle and Sebastian sounds like the upbeat soundtrack to a movie montage, the lyrics by frontman Stuart Murdoch are decidedly depressing. Evoking a lonely childhood spent hiding from kids having fun, the contrarian Murdoch says, "I don't love anything / Not even Christmas."
"Thank God it's Monday"NOFX
Legendary Los Angeles-based punk group NOFX and its controversial frontman Fat Mike do pretty much everything with tongue firmly planted in cheek. This song from 2000's Pump Up the Valuum essentially badmouths the weekend while Mike heaps praise on weekdays ("I'll tell you why I like Tuesdays / 'Cause the're kinda like Christmas.")
You might not be all that familiar with this track by British indie outfit Athlete unless, of course, you watched the second season of the WB's The Vampire Diaries or the U.K. version of The X Factor. But the lead single from their 2005 album, Tourist, is about frontman Joel Pott rushing through a hospital to see his prematurely born daughter who had "wires going in." Now try not to get misty when he sings, "I see hope is here in a plastic box / I've seen Christmas lights reflect in your eyes."
"Two Headed Boy" Neutral Milk Hotel
Jeff Mangum of lo-fi indie icons Neutral Milk Hotel has a penchant for abstract, often cryptic lyrics and "Two Headed Boy" — one of the most beloved of the songs on 1998's In the Airplane Over the Sea — features them in spades. So by the end, when he sings, "The world that you need is wrapped in gold silver sleeves / left beneath Christmas trees in the snow," the meaning isn't entirely clear, but it clearly has nothing to do with Santa.