“Oh you better watch out,
You better not cry,
You better not pout,
I’m telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town!
He’s making a list,
He’s checking it twice,
He’s gonna find out,
Who’s naughty or nice
Santa Clause is coming to town!
He sees you when you’re sleeping,
He knows when you’re awake,
He knows when you’ve been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake!”
Coots and Gillespie, 1934
Why did adults ever think that this was a fun song for children? Why do children sing it? Do they listen to anything after: “Santa Claus is coming to town”? The lyrics could have been written as a parody on J. Edgar Hoover! If you really listen to it, it’s terrifying.
As a very young child I remember thinking about that damn list. I was an active little boy. I ran out of fingers and toes to count my misdeeds just between last Christmas and New Years. When they started playing this song it was deep in the fall. I knew I was doomed. There was no possible way for me to work my way off the naughty list and make myself worthy of the “Nice” list before Christmas. I was doomed I tell you.
But, the hammer never really fell. My family never used this song as a tool to improve my behavior, tempting as it must have been. In my heart of hearts I knew I’d get off. I suspect most children do. So, why is that? There is no hint of that in the song.
I don’t remember anyone telling me; but, I always knew somehow that it wasn’t my lapses, errors or childish misbehaviors that counted. What counted was my heart, and what counted about my heart was that it was open to love and therefore good and worthy. A good heart trumped all. Maybe that’s how children get through this song at Christmas without hiding under their beds.