The ‘anti-Christmas’ song that’s a festive classic

But while Butler might have written Christmas Wrapping reluctantly, he definitely did not phone it in. Instead, he poured his own experience of seasonal stress while working as a freelance journalist into the song’s authentic anti-Christmas sentiment. “When people were relaxing, having a cup of holiday cheer, I was slaving away to write articles and make deadlines, because I was perpetually broke,” he told the Akron Beacon Journal.

In addition to giving the song a strong story arc and soaring chorus that sounds quintessentially festive despite its ambivalent lyrics – “But I think I’ll miss this one this year” – Butler shrewdly drew from rap music, which was bubbling up from the New York underground. Christmas Wrapping’s title is a three-way pun: on wrapping paper, the full circle “wraparound” nature of its narrative, and Donahue’s rapping-influenced vocal performance.

Donahue’s deliciously dry delivery heightens the song’s tongue-in-cheek quality, helping to make it a tart counterpoint to the cloying sincerity of some festive hits. Sadly, the singer died of lung cancer in 1996, two years before the Spice Girls brought the song to a new audience. Her bandmate Mars Williams – who plays Christmas Wrapping’s distinctive saxophone riff, another key ingredient in its festive recipe – passed away last month. Still, their performances live on in a song that has slowly but surely become a seasonal staple. Since 2017, The Waitresses’ Christmas Wrapping has returned to the UK charts for a week or two every December.

“I do think there’s a good chance Christmas Wrapping will either maintain its current level of popularity or perhaps even become more popular,” McIntyre says, pointing to its place on numerous pre-made streaming playlists. When time-pressed Spotify users search for “best Christmas songs” instead of building their own bespoke playlist, they’re likely to hit on one that places Christmas Wrapping alongside yuletide tunes by Wham!, Carey and Bublé.

On top of this, the song’s unique viewpoint – apathy melting into eleventh-hour revelry – will always strike a chord with anyone who struggles to feel festive at the ‘most wonderful time of the year’. “Although Christmas Wrapping is far superior, its appeal is kind of similar to the awful Netflix movies we watch every December,” says Daly. “It just captures the magic of Christmas in a very relatable way.” So, to paraphrase its comfortingly familiar chorus: Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas, we couldn’t skip this one this year.

If you liked this story, sign up for The Essential List newsletter – a handpicked selection of features, videos and can’t-miss news delivered to your inbox every Friday.

If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *