It’s that time of the year again: all the Christmas songs you’ve listened to since your childhood are once more gently caressing your ears, the streets in the city center have been adorned with festive lights, and you have an excellent excuse to cuddle up against your loved ones because it is oh so cold outside. But especially for those whose native language isn’t English, it’s the time of the year when you realize you now actually do understand the lyrics to all those familiar Christmas songs that you didn’t grasp when you were younger. The content of the songs are usually what you would expect from a Christmas song, but there is one that winds me up every time I hear it and it is Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas.” Band Aid was a collaboration of famous singers and musicians brought together in 1984 by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise money for anti-poverty efforts in Ethiopia. It was a fantastic aim, without a doubt, and they were tremendously successful in doing so, but what baffles me are the demeaning and patronizing lyrics towards Africa. Lyrics that people are, after thirty years, still singing without any embarrassment or awareness of what words come out of their mouths.
Let me take you through the lyrics. The song starts with: “It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid. At Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade.” This is all perfectly fine. We like to forget about our worries and fears at Christmas, sure. The song continues: “And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy. Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime. But say a prayer to pray for the other ones. At Christmastime.” Here it starts to get a bit itchy. In our Western world of plenty, we have materialistic comforts in abundance, so that makes us capable of spreading a smile. But, seeing that not everyone in the world has those comforts, we should reach out and give them a figurative hug. Or better even, we should stay inside our easy homes and pray for them. Yes, that will surely help them. Only do this at Christmastime, though! Next: “It’s hard, but when you’re having fun. There’s a world outside your window, and it’s a world of dread and fear, where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears.” So, here in the Western world we’re having fun and spreading smiles, but outside is a world of total terror and horror. Boy, it is so dreadful; they don’t even have water there. They only have water from the tears they’re crying all the time. Poor, pitiful bastards. “And the Christmas bells that ring there, are the clanging chimes of doom.” They don’t have the essential luxury of Christmas bells, but only the ones that announce even more terror. But now here is the lyric that crosses me most: “Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you.” Let’s just praise the Lord that they are the ones who have to suffer so much instead of us! Good graces, are we a bunch of lucky fellows! Let them just sit there, by their river of tears in their world of terror, and we’ll sit over here in our world of plenty and laughs and say a prayer for them. Fantastic plan.
I think you get my point. I can’t help wondering what unprivileged African people think of this song and how they feel about the lyrics. I am embarrassed at this point to be a Westerner, although I have nothing to do with the song. I understand that we do have more materialistic luxuries here, and that we are fortunate in that aspect, but is that really what life is about? Is that what Christmas is about? I like to believe that people are all the same; we come from different cultures and climates and customs but there are universal truths like basic human emotions. What I was always taught is that Christmas is initially about the celebration of the birth of Jesus, but on an even larger scale it is about love, family, about coming together and realizing how blessed we are with each other. I can only assume those human emotions are the same in Africa so there’s no need to think little of these people. There is no need for singing pitiful songs about the continent. The message should have been that despite the issue that they don’t have as many comforts as we do, they are still capable of having as much happiness and love. This is something to be admired rather than patronized. Please, let us ban this song from the radio and our Christmas playlists and instead play those that did catch the true Christmas spirit!