Sweet Little Jesus Boy, by Andy Williams
Some Christmas songs celebrate the joy of the Christmas season. Reindeer, snow, family, Santa Claus, Christmas trees, presents - all hallmarks of holiday songs. Many people believe that Christmas is a time to celebrate all of those wonderful things in song. A few others believe that Christmas is the time to flagellate yourself over the actions of a Judean innkeeper in 0 AD.
"Sweet Little Jesus Boy" is more hymn than Christmas carol. If you tried to sing this while out caroling, people would probably slam the door in your face for bringing them down and making them feel ashamed. The song focuses on the poor accommodations given to the Baby Jesus before His birth. In my preferred version, Andy Williams sounds completely tormented with guilt over this two thousand-year-old example of poor hotel management. Andy didn't make Mary and Joseph sleep in a barn, but his voice conveys that he feels personal responsibility for their lodgings all the same.
Listening to "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" is the Christmas carol equivalent of putting on a hairshirt. Play this song for your secular friends, and the War on Christmas would be won before it even started. The guilty Andy Williams sounds quite subservient to Sweet Little Jesus Boy throughout the song, calling him "Master" and "Sir". While it's certainly polite, I haven't often heard people use "sir" while praying. Of course, Andy also calls the Messiah "Sweet Little Jesus Boy", so maybe it's not completely respectable.
An interesting aspect of the lyrics comes in the repeated laments, "We didn't know who you were", and "We didn't know it was you". The implication is that normally, sending a pregnant woman out to a drafty barn to give birth among a bunch of animals would be perfectly OK; just not if she was carrying the Messiah. How many people did know it was him, besides Mary and Joseph?
Some Catholics feel guilt regarding the death of Jesus. While I feel that's being a little tough on yourself, I can at least see the logic. But feeling bad about the birth seems overly sensitive. Jesus came out of the whole barn experience perfectly healthy, and scored a whole bunch of gold, frankincense and myrrh, so it didn't work out terribly for him. Catholics wear crucifixes around their necks, not little gold barns. Seriously, Andy, cut yourself some slack on this one.
I love this carol because it is so over the top. There aren't a lot of carols that require the (faux-)emotional commitment of "Sweet Little Jesus Boy", and I love belting it out in front of my shocked, giggling family. Or in the car. Or on my parents' answering machine, when they're not home, and don't especially want to hear the entire first verse when they come home shopping.
Finally, I need to mention that the "Boy" part of the title is extraneous. It sounds like one is describing a sweet long-haired child, perhaps one with an affinity for carpentry and a distrust of money-changers. Maybe that's what Mary actually called Jesus, much like my mom called me "Seany Boy". I could see Jesus getting rebellious around age thirteen, and insisting on being just plain Jesus, or at least "Sweet Jesus", and then getting embarrassed when Mary accidentally called him Sweet Little Jesus Boy when dropping him off at the temple in front of all his friends, who started called him "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" in high, mocking voices:
"Ooh, sorry Sweet Little Jesus Boy! We didn't know it was you!"
And then Jesus would run off to hang out with lepers and plot ways to make Andy Williams feel unnecessary guilt a few milleniums later.