Holiday traditions exist at the crossroads of cultural memory and personal memory (we’ll ignore the confusing cloverleaf interchange of invented memory for now — my holiday gift to you!). What I’ve always found interesting is how these traditions converge and conflict across national, regional, local, and idiosyncratic arenas. For example, my family always had corn at Thanksgiving, and I was surprisingly dismayed and unfulfilled when one year I had Thanksgiving with a friend’s family and they did not have corn, nor did they ever. Or there are Christmas trees which, where I grew up in Oregon could be had for a $5 permit and a thermos of hot chocolate. In New York I see trees starting at $20 per foot (not that an average apartment has all that much space for a very big one). Fake Christmas trees that are re-used every year start to make sense when one considers those kinds of costs.
Holiday songs follow this pattern to a high degree as well. We all had those small handfuls of LPs or cassettes (or CDs for you kids out there) that established the proper version of a song. Maybe this is why it seems that no new holiday songs are any good, but it also makes it very hard to really like a new version of a familiar song. Very much like re-makes of films or adaptations, the “original” (the version first established in our minds) almost always seems better. These kinds of arguments are convenient because of the quickness of a reaction tied to emotion or memory sense, but they are also difficult to articulate because they are often tied to memory. Corn is good and all, but there isn’t a really great reason why it is superior to peas and carrots and why peas and carrots leave a dark hole of sadness within me (but only on the fourth Thursday in November).
With that in mind, I offer up two more recent versions of The Waitresses’ holiday classic “Christmas Wrapping” for your judgement of which should not be archived in our collective memory.
First, the Spice Girls:
Then The Donnas:
You may have an immediate reaction even without listening to these songs based on which commercialized appropriation of feminism you most approve of, but give it a go. There seems to be a balance to successful remakes, covers, adaptations, and new traditions, a balance between capturing something essential about the original and with a creating a different take that opens up new meanings or a new understanding of the original or its contexts. Or maybe it’s just about what makes one shake one’s booty the most.