Archive for December 2015

As mentioned in a previous post, I spend a lot more time listening to the radio these days, now that I have a car. Two of the local radio stations switched to an all-Christmas music format early in November; consequently, I have listened to a lot more Christmas music in the past week than in all the years since I stopped working retail.

It’s only been a week because, as the owner of a brand-new car, I also have a temporary free subscription to satellite radio. And while I have every intention of talking to you about that, and two infuriatingly dreadful songs I’ve been subjected to, in keeping with the season I’m cutting my own line to discuss a holiday song I heard yesterday, The Christmas Shoes.

Although I only heard it for the first time yesterday, I’ve been aware of the song for quite some time. After having been released in 2000, it became a tv-movie in 2002 starring Rob Lowe, slumming in those dark years before Chris Traeger came along to make all of our lives better. So I was generally familiar with the plot of the song – it’s Christmas, there are shoes – but not until yesterday did I realize how truly magnificent a tale this really is.

In the unlikely event you’ve not had the pleasure, let’s start, as the song does, at the beginning:

It was almost Christmas time
There I stood in another line
Tryin’ to buy that last gift or two
Not really in the Christmas mood

So we have some pretty standard scene setting there. We can infer that the vague “Christmas time” is telling us that the actual Christmas Day is not too far away. And after a season of presumably intensive shopping, he’s not feeling terribly generous. Nor terribly patient, as he passive-aggressively waits in another line to buy the gifts he’s not excited to give to people he probably hates.

Yet, on this night, we ask, what makes this line different from all other lines? It was the person waiting in front of him – “a little boy waiting anxiously, pacing around like little boys do.” You know how little boys are always pacing; they’re famous for it. Snips and snails and pacing in the mall to get the best deal on holiday sales; that is what little boys are made of.

In addition to pacing in line, while waiting to buy the titular shoes I should mention, there are several notable things about this boy:

And his clothes were worn and old
He was dirty from head to toe

Just as a reminder, this song was written in 2000, and not by Charles Dickens.

So the filthy urchin finally gets to the front of the line and, as little boys also do, unspools this tale of woe to the shopkeeper:

Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my mama, please
It’s Christmas eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry, sir, daddy says there’s not much time
You see she’s been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes would make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful, if mama meets Jesus tonight

Heart-wrenching, to be sure. But it also raises a lot of questions for me. For starters, if the mother has been dying for quite a while, why is he waiting until the last minute to buy her a pair of shoes? I mean, I’m sure his job as a chimney sweep keeps him very busy, but still; procrastination is not the way out of poverty.

Also, has his mother been shoe-less the entire time she’s been dying? That seems extreme, even on top of leaving behind a motherless child who doesn’t know how to wash. And if she is shoe-less, is it because her feet are a weird size? Why else would it be worthy of note that the shoes, which probably are not custom-made, are just her size? Are they really big? Have her feet been bound and she’s dying from a related infection?

I’m also very confused about the stated purpose of these shoes. Is she going to be wearing the shoes when she meets Jesus? This is maybe because I’m Jewish, but I didn’t think souls had to wear shoes, what with being insubstantial and all. Plus, even if you did step on, say, a rusty nail, what’s it gonna do? You’re already dead; don’t waste your time worrying about tetanus.

On the other hand, if a soul does wear shoes, would they necessarily have to be shoes they owned during their lifetime? Unless you’re a Pharoah, who gets buried with all of his possessions to be prepared for anything in the afterlife, that seems unnecessarily limiting, and not at all like a reward for living a good life.

Or maybe it’s just that the shoes will make her smile, and she’ll wear the smile her one-on-one with Jesus. But isn’t Jesus supposed to believe everyone is beautiful? Again, my history with Judaism is affecting my understanding of this parable, but I would expect that a guy who could cure a leper would be able to love all kinds of women. If Dionisio Vivo could do it, I’m sure the son of the Lord could also manage it.

Of course, this is the plan of a child, and children are notoriously stupid so it’s not such a surprise that it doesn’t make much sense. And it really falls apart when he attempt to pay for the shoes.

He counted pennies for what seemed like years
Then the cashier said, “Son, there’s not enough here”
He searched his pockets frantically
Then he turned and he looked at me

Are they paying underage coal miners in pennies these days? He couldn’t stop by a CoinStar to change some of that for bills? He is on kind of a tight deadline, literally, with his mother’s situation and all. I would guess that maybe he pulled a Claudia & Jaime Kincaid and fished all the coin wishes out of the store’s fountain if it weren’t already established that he’s covered in dirt and clearly hasn’t had any contact with water in several weeks.

And yet, despite the dirt and his own impatience, our jaded narrator is swayed by the child’s plight, pitching in his own money to help pay for the shoes. Conveniently, this addresses not just the issue of a woman dying barefoot, but also helps salve the narrator’s spiritual torpor. Almost as if it was meant to all along. . .

I knew I’d caught a glimpse of heaven’s love
As he thanked me and ran out
I knew that God had sent that little boy
To remind me what Christmas is all about

I have to admit that, before this verse, I was a little bit bored by the song. If I’m being honest, I have to admit that, musically, it’s not fully pleasing to one’s ear holes. And it’s long. But this declaration? That God is killing the mother’s of poor children so that this man will not be so pissy about standing in line? It’s amazing. Because that does seem like the most efficient way for an omnipotent being to deliver a message – why disguise yourself as a burning bush when there are strangers who can die tragically? – and not at all like astonishing levels of self -delusion and -grandeur. It is so sincerely self-involved and lacking in any sort of self-awareness that it’s nearly perfect.

And then a children’s choir joins in for the final chorus.

Sometimes the written word can fail to fully capture an experience. But know that, once those angelic little voices lifted in song, I immediately abandoned my secret hope that the dirt-coated boy with the dying mom was just the front man for a complicated scheme involving reselling ill-gotten designer shoes; my heart filled with glee at the unparalled achievement, and unabashed heart-string-tugging, of this song. The lack of subtlety combined with the aforementioned sincerity; someone wanted to be sure that everyone understood the moral of this song. I wouldn’t be so bold as to suggest who, but I think I, like that man in the store, can recognize a miracle intended just for me when I hear it.


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