Jingle Bell Blocked: 10 Holiday Songs That Have Been Censored
Federal, state and local governments cannot declare a song illegal. Nor can the government get involved if people or companies decide not to play certain songs. But holiday music isn't without controversy.
Here are some so-called banned holiday songs that you may not hear on the radio, when you are holiday shopping at the mall, or in some public schools.
Some of these banned holiday songs have been reconsidered or have lost popularity. In some cases, they were deemed by stations or stores as too disliked to play.
Discover 10 of the most prominent banned holiday songs of all time
1. All I Want for Christmas Is You | Mariah Carey (1994)
While this is one of the most played modern holiday hits, it also divides people.
A 2019 Change.org petition asked the government to ban the song from stores and radio stations because the petitioners disliked hearing the song so much. The petition did not move forward. Asking the government for change is using the First Amendment freedom to petition. But such a government ban would violate the First Amendment's protection of free speech.
A bar in Dallas got attention for banning this hit song from being played before Dec. 1. A sign at the bar sparked social media debate, with Carey herself weighing in.
is this the war on Christmas I’ve heard about? https://t.co/9u1QqESyst— 😳 (@ntferny) October 24, 2021
2. Baby, It's Cold Outside | Frank Loesser (1949)
This duet between the composer and his wife was featured in the 1949 movie "Neptune's Daughter," a musical romantic comedy.
Since then, it has been covered by many famous artists as a duet.
But it got another look around in 2018 when the #MeToo movement spurred a new look at the treatment of women.
Critics argued that the song depicts sexual harassment as a man pressures a woman into staying the night. Some radio stations decided to stop airing it. Mood Media, a company that provides playlists to hotels and retail stores, pulled the song from its holiday selections in 2019.
Others argued that the lyrics showed a woman flirting in a way that was OK for the society of the 1940s. Some stations returned the song to the air following listener polls. One Kentucky radio station played the song on repeat to counter the criticism.
Since the controversy erupted, some artists have created covers of the song with updated lyrics. One such version is by John Legend and Kelly Clarkson.
The song remains popular on streaming services.
3. Fairytale of New York | The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl (1987)
This dark song tells the tale of a love story gone wrong on Christmas Eve.
MTV bleeped an anti-gay word in the song, and band members criticized the decision. In the U.K., different BBC radio stations made different decisions about this slur and another one directed at a woman in the song.
MacColl herself sometimes swapped out the anti-gay word during live performances.
4. The Chanukah Song | Adam Sandler (1994)
This song first appeared on "Saturday Night Live" in December 1994. Its lyrics list celebrities with real or imagined Jewish backgrounds combined with nonsense rhymes.
Many celebrants of the Jewish festival appreciate the humor and say it is positive to be represented during a season normally dominated by Christmas.
RELATED: Why is Christmas a federal holiday?
The song is also criticized by some for outing Jewish celebrities who are not public about their identities. Such labeling can increase targeted antisemitism.
The song also includes a lyric mentioning marijuana, which has been censored by some public schools.
However, several artists have copied, parodied and adapted the song. Sandler himself has released several additional versions.
5. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus | Jimmy Boyd (1952)
Boyd recorded this novelty tune at age 13. It quickly topped the charts, to his surprise.
However, the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston condemned the song for combining a religious holiday with suggested infidelity. Some radio stations refused to play the tune.
Then Boyd spoke to church leaders, explaining that the song was about a child mistaking his father in costume for Santa Claus. The church lifted its ban.
🎄In 1952, Tommie Connor’s ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,’ performed by Jimmy Boyd, was released pic.twitter.com/no95ruYRv2— RetroNewsNow (@RetroNewsNow) December 17, 2021
6. It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas | Meredith Willson (1951)
Composer Meredith Willson wrote this holiday classic, which has been recorded by Perry Como, Bing Crosby and Michael Bublé.
Mood Media pulled this tune from its holiday catalog of playlists for retail stores and hotels in 2019. It did so because of a lyric about wishing for "a pistol that shoots."
"What you don't play can't hurt you," Mood Media's vice president of creative programming said.
7. Little Becky's Christmas Wish | Becky Lamb (1967)
In this spoken word piece, a little girl narrates a letter to Santa Claus. She asks for her big brother Tommy to come home safe from the Vietnam War. The song suggests he won't be coming back.
Some radio stations reportedly declined to play the song. There were concerns it could upset families with relatives fighting overseas. Still, the song reached No. 2 on the charts.
8. Ma'oz Tzur | Hanukkah traditional
Hanukkah is a Jewish festival celebrated for eight days to commemorate the rededication of the Second Temple. "Ma'oz Tzur" is a song frequently heard during the season. The Hebrew lyrics' meaning is debated. Some suggest the song calls for violence against people of other religions. The song’s sixth and final verse has reportedly long been censored. However, the song remains a popular reminder of the struggle to avoid erasure, and many Jewish musicians have adapted or added to it.
9. Santa Baby | Eartha Kitt (1953)
Written by Phil Springer and Joan Javits, this nontraditional holiday song was a quick hit. But its lyrics were considered risqué for the time. They include a mention of "all the fellas that I haven't kissed." Some radio stations opted out of playing it.
Kitt drew criticism when she performed the song at a banquet for the king and queen of Greece.
But the tune has since been covered by stars from Madonna to Miss Piggy.
This is the face of someone who has heard everyone but moi sing "Santa Baby" on the radio this Christmas. pic.twitter.com/yZgs6rv16Y— Miss Piggy (@MissPiggy) December 19, 2015
10. White Christmas | Elvis Presley (1957)
Composer Irving Berlin, a Jewish immigrant from Russia, wrote "White Christmas." Bing Crosby made it popular when he sang it in the 1942 movie "Holiday Inn."
It was covered by many artists, including Presley in 1957. The megastar was shaking up music and stirring controversy for his sultry moves and rock 'n' roll sound.
Berlin reportedly did not appreciate Presley's take on the classic hit. Because Presley was seen as inappropriate at the time, Berlin thought he corrupted the song. Berlin asked radio stations not to play it, but Presley's version topped the charts anyway.
One Portland, Ore., radio station decided not to play the song. The station fired a DJ who played it anyway. But after listeners complained, the DJ was quickly rehired.
Holiday music in public schools
Some public schools decide not to use religious holiday music.
In 2010, the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge of a New Jersey school district's policy against "celebratory religious music" in school programs. The district had for decades not used songs or music related to religious holidays.
Other public schools do include holiday songs. Courts have said that can be OK, as long as the schools are not pressuring students to practice certain beliefs. Schools' song choices can't discriminate against other faiths. And selected songs must have an educational purpose.
For example, in 2018, a federal appeals court said that an Indiana public high school's Christmas Spectacular didn't violate religious freedom rights – as long as the school made some modifications. The school needed to remove scripture readings and add songs from other religious traditions.
In 2022, a New York school superintendent took "Jingle Bells" off teaching lists. This traditional song from the 1850s was originally sung at Thanksgiving and quickly became a holiday classic.
School officials said other songs better accomplished their educational goals. They noted the song's potentially problematic past as a staple of racist performances, and they observed that not all students celebrate Christmas.
Public schools are part of the government. They must follow the First Amendment and protect religious exercise and free speech. But schools can also decide what to teach. In this case, this decision was for educational reasons. Therefore, it did not violate the First Amendment.
What's the bottom line for banned holiday songs and the First Amendment?
Privately owned radio stations, retail stores and other businesses can make their own decisions about what music to license and play.
Public schools must both protect religious freedom and prevent religious pressure when selecting holiday music.
But the government cannot ban holiday songs — or any music — outright.
Today, in the United States, the First Amendment protects the right to produce and listen to music without government interference.
You can find, purchase or stream any song you'd like, even if a private business, station or store has decided not to play it.
You're free to make your own playlist, whether you want to listen to Mariah Carey on repeat in July or press skip when you hear her each December.