Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Supremes "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town"

So many of the old songs you sang as a kid have anachronistic phrases that you just don't understand when you 5 or 10 or even 16.

I can remember being a kid and singing the National Anthem in school, and wondering what the hell the phrase "O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming" meant.  I mean, several of those words were familiar, but they didn't make a whole lot of sense to me.

So too, did I find this to be true with Christmas Carols. 

"His horse was lean and lank/Misfortune seemed his lot/He got into a drifted bank/And then we got upsot." from "Jingle Bells" was wholly impenetrable to a modern boy.

Less thorny in terms of bygone terms, but equally impenetrable, was this popular Holiday lyric:

"You better be good for goodness sake."

Okay, so there are all familiar words in there, and nothing that word require any special equestrian or militaristic knowledge.

But what did it mean.

And it was important to know what it meant, because "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" is a roadmap on how a child can insure that Santa delivers.

"You better be good."  That part makes enough sense.  No shouting, crying, pouting, etc.  Listen to your parents.  Clean your room.  Basic stuff.

"For goodness sake."

Now, at first, I thought that this was simply an exclamation.  "Oh, for goodness sake" is what polite people say instead of saying "Dammitall!" 

So the song was saying, you better be good, if you know what's good for you.  Or, you better be good for crying out loud.  Something like that.

Years later, I was taking a philosophy class and we were discussing the reasons to be "Good."  And the phrase, "for goodness sake" came up.

Many people practice being "good" because it is a way to get into Heaven or to get Santa to bring you a gift or a way to keep the cops from taking you away.  There is an outside incentive to be good.

But others practice the concept of "good" because the goodness is its own reward.  You behave ethically, not for anyone else, but so you can sleep at night with a clear conscience.

And that's when "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" really started to bug me.

Okay, here's a song about all the things you should and shouldn't be doing if you want good stuff for Christmas.  And, take note kids, Santa can see everything you do.  He's got his ever watchful eye on you, and is expecting you to be good.

And then the singer throws in "So you better be good for goodness sake"?


The whole song is built around the concept of being good for Santa's reward.  The song gives no indication that being good is an end unto itself.  It just the opposite.

Philosophically, I find Santa's reasoning to be lacking, and even suspect.

Yeah, suspect . . . this time it's me who's got an eye on you, fat man.

Hear the song on Youtube.

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