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River – A Sad Christmas Song

by | Dec 18, 2017 | Tis' The Season

I was contemplating River, the Joni Mitchell Christmas Song, or is it a break-up song?

This is my first blog ever and my hope is the blog might bring about a conversation at a Christmas party or get together, or at the very least provoke a thought about sad songs at Christmastime and the reasons for them and how they affect us.  It’s coming on Christmas, they’re cutting down trees, putting up reindeer, singing songs of joy and peace.  I wish I had a river, I could skate away on…

Some may say that Joni Mitchell’s River is not a Christmas song, at all,  but instead a seriously sad break-up song set at Christmastime.  There is no denying that it is a seriously sad break-up song, however, the setting and time of year really add to the heartbreak.  No one wants to go through a break-up, but for it to happen at Christmas?  That is the worst!  Everybody else  seems so happy, and full of cheer.  Everywhere you look the world seems decorations and festive, and everyone in this virtual snow-globe of life seems to be in that proverbial Christmas spirit  That is, everyone but you.  So, it makes what you’re going through  even more escalated and awful. Subsequently, there’s the added bonus of Christmases to come,  and the lingering memories that will come to you like the ghost of Christmas past.  Not everyone is allowed a holly jolly Christmas season.  Life happens and when it does songs fet written and often the  lyrics strike chords and balances in people’s lives, and they are not always happy.

As in Joni Mitchell’s River, I am going through a very rough time this Christmas.

I’m not suffering through a romantic break-up, but a break within my family, and those can sometimes be just as hard, if not harder.  I live in Texas, so there are no Rivers that will ever be able to skate away on.  But I can play any and all versions of River and I feel  like I’m not the only sad person on the planet.  I get lost in the imagery of this song and I believe I know exactly what it feels like to want to go somewhere and begin moving in one direction until you end up in another place and time.  And  maybe, the hurt will stay behind in the place where you started, and not follow where you end up.

When I listen to the Joni Mitchell’s River, I realize it’s a really big wish, in fact a big icy blue Christmas wish. It’s a wish that will never come true, that is unless you end up living in a Hallmark movie, or you develop amnesia, and never get your memories back.  The truth is, in life, there will always be some sadness and we will never be able to control when it happens.

By and large, As people with hearts and feelings, we love and we’re loved, we hurt and we get hurt, we forgiven and we’re forgiven, but forgetting is a nearly impossible feat.  Somehow we do find a way to move on.  Maybe, like in Mitchell’s song, we have a slow running river in our minds and hearts and with time we put on skates and begin slowly moving forward until we wind up in a new space with renewed feelings.  In the long run, Christmastime, like in River, can be overwhelmingly difficult for some.  And sometimes there is a desire for commiseration through music.  Consequently, I even have a sad song Christmas playlist, because even at Christmas you sometimes need a good cry and that river to skate away on.

Sad Christmas Song Playlist

River – Joni Mitchell 
also coveres by:
James Taylor
Robert Downey, Jr. (my personal fave)
Sarah MacLachlan
Indigo Girls
Allison Crowe
Madeleine Peyroux

Same Old Lang SyneDan Fogelberg

My Sad Christmas Song – Miley Cyrus

Christmas Makes Me Cry – Kacey Musgraves

Hard Candy Christmas – Dolly Parton

Merry Christmas, Darling – Frank Pooler and Richard Carpenter, recorded by The Carpenters

Please Come Home for Christmas – Charles Brown and Gene Redd, covered by the Eagles and many more

Blue Christmas – Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson, famously recorded by Elvis Presley, but Celine Dion conveys the true emotion of the song lyrics

Christmas Lights – Coldplay

Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis – Tom Waits

I Want to Come Home for Christmas – Marvin Gaye

Santa Can’t Stay – Dwight Yoakam

Christmas Eve Can Kill You – The Everly Brothers

Christmases When You Were Mine – Taylor Swift

Lonely Christmas Call – George Jones

Where Are You ChristmasJames Horner and Will Jennings, recorded by Faith Hill

What Do the Lonely Do at Christmas?Homer Banks & Carl Mitchell Hampton, recorded by the Emotions

Someday at ChristmasBryan Wells and Ronald Miller, recorded by Stevie Wonder

If We Make It Through December – Merle Haggard

Lonely Night – Merle Haggard

Christmas Letter – Keith Whitley

Pretty Paper – Roy Orbison

Better Days – Goo Goo Dolls

Get Me Through DecemberNatalie MacMaster, recorded by Alison Krauss

Christmas Blues – Holly Cole Trio

Another Lonely Christmas – John Eddie

My December – Josh Groban

I’m Not Really in the Christmas Mood This Year – Foxtails Brigade

Calling on Mary – Aimee Mann

Lonely This Christmas – KT Tunstall

The Saddest Day of the Year – Jill Sobule

Lonely Without You(This Christmas) – Mick Jagger and Joss Stone

25th December – Everything But the Girl

Christmas in L.A. – The Killers

Wintersong – Sarah McLachlan

I know there are many more, but we don’t need to get too down, after all, it is Christmas.

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