Is Wham’s “Last Christmas” really a Christmas song?

people and dog in santa costume sitting in the park
The day before the morning after.
Photo by RODNAE Productions.

Once every twelve months, we reach that time of the year when my programming team gets asked to play carols, festive songs and similar Christmas themed content as part of the background music in stores, hotels and restaurants. Every year my programing team leaves Wham and Last Christmas off the playlists. And every year, we get calls from clients asking why it isn’t playing.

Here’s our argument. It is a break up song. A song of unrequited love. A song sung by a man who got dumped. On Boxing Day. There is nothing in the song that celebrates Christmas. The only reason the festival gets a mention is because the poor loser bares his heart and soul on the 25th of December, fuelled no doubt by the inappropriate quantities of eggnog and mulled wine he’s swilled. Assuming, fairly I suppose, that the object of his affection, after similar quantities of eggnog and mulled wine, briefly reciprocated his feelings while being snogged under the mistletoe, he wakes up the next morning feeling that god’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world. We’re not sure how long this sense of euphoria lasts, but at some point during the day, he gets his hat and his heart handed back to him, with little regret or remorse being expressed by the party doing the dumping.

There are no Santas or snowbells. There’s no mention of Mary’s little boy child, expect for a point in the song where the dumped party takes the lord’s name in vain. We could just as well have had a song about Midsummer’s Night or the Fourth of July for all that the holiday itself plays any part in the proceedings.

As a responsible music provider, we do try and keep socially inappropriate content out of our clients’ premises. The holidays after all, are the time when suicide helplines light up, with the lonely and unloved feeling depressed enough to either swallow a bottle of non-prescription pills, or to talk to a complete stranger about their desire to swallow said pills. These are people to whom no one has gifted an ugly sweater. That’s how alone they are. Why would we ever want to make matters worse for people such as these by reminding them that like our singer, they’ve probably been given the boot by the object of their affections? And in his case, after less than 24 hours have passed.

So, responsibly, we leave Wham off the playlists. And then spend the next week arguing with store managers, front office staff and bar owners about the appropriateness of playing Last Christmas. Do we give in? Reluctantly. Fortunately, in the 20 odd years we’ve been in this business, we haven’t had the S.W.A.T. teams called into a client’s location because some agrieved soul has brandished a semi-automatic weapon after having heard Mr. Michael croon just one too many times. But every year we wait with bated breath expecting a news flash that this has happened. Let me tell you, there’s nothing that ruins your Christmas more than sitting there expecting S.W.A.T. instead of Santa.

At the Alenka Media offices? We’re going with Baby, It’s Cold Outside. Yes, there are suspicious drinks involved. Yes, there are angry parents in the offing. But if you’re going to have a misspent evening, it might as well be with someone who won’t be giving your heart away, and will instead want to hold it close. Let’s face it. If you can’t be inappropriate during the holidays, what’s the point of the hangover?

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