The third song of Christmas: Not a who, but a what

For an indeterminate amount of time in my memories of that period in my life, my older brother Walter set up a music station in the corner of our dining room. He had a turntable, headphones, and scads of LPs strewn about in his own little patch of our family’s public domain, where my parents begrudgingly let him play the squatter as he entertained his friends or lay there solo, headphones barely protecting him against the onslaught of four younger siblings.

I don’t remember how long it was like this — it could have been a short-term arrangement, but in my mind, it lasted a long time. Long enough for me to pick up on some of his musical tastes. With our older brother George, it had been different — like most teen boys, he’d preferred to enjoy his music and his friends in the relative privacy of his bedroom. I’d managed to break into a few of those sessions, and learned a little about music (and other sordid topics) from him, as well.

But Walter’s arrangement gave me free reign for longer periods of time; with George, I could stay in his room for short periods, but with Walter, I could access his albums anytime he wasn’t there. With George, I had just enough time to learn about one band — the Beatles. With Walter, I learned about multiple bands: America; the Doobie Brothers; Jackson Browne; all combinations of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and/or Young; ; and one sort of outlier — the Beach Boys.

Somehow, a copy of “Beach Boys Concert” had made its way into Walter’s stack. To this day, I don’t know if he was a fan or if one of our sisters had done some listening on the sly, but either way, I discovered the album and liked it. This was a different kind of music, one that amused the eight-year-old me at first — that guy sang like a GIRL on purpose! — but that grew on me for its great sound. I thought of it for years as “beach music,” but then I moved to North Carolina and was quickly corrected on the use of that phrase. The Beach Boys’ genre is more aptly described as “the California sound,” which consisted of squeaky-clean harmonies ruminating on three subjects: surfing, cars, and girls in bikinis.

Years later, I was delighted to learn the Beach Boys had released a Christmas album before I was even born, and one of the songs had a funny title — “Little Saint Nick.” The first mention I heard of it was a television commercial, one that used an animation of a diminutive Santa Claus running around the screen. I’d never heard the jolly old elf referred to as small in any way, but that was fine. I loved the song.

Years later still, I was listening to the radio in my car when that song came on. I was sort of half-singing the words when their actual meaning finally registered. Everything I’d known about the Beach Boys came flooding back, and I laughed out loud, alone in my car, in appreciation of the brilliance of it all. Even though it mentions him, the song isn’t about Santa Claus. The Little Saint Nick isn’t a person, it’s a thing.

I gave myself a mental high five, laughed again, shook my head, and tucked the information away as trivia to be shared. I’ve tried to do that often, just as I do with my observation of The Jingle Bells Phenomenon/Curse. My favorite place to do that used to be during the annual Christmas party in my two sons’ Cub Scout Pack. I was a leader in some capacity there for nine years, and for at least half of those years, I helped out during the party by asking Christmas trivia questions between activities. And I could keep asking the same questions year after year, because the boys never remembered that I’d asked them the year before. I had the same wrinkled piece of paper filed away for 364 days, dragging it out with joy and presenting it before them like frankincense. And they’d have no idea they’d smelled that oil before.

My favorite question was, “Who or what is the titular Little Saint Nick in the Beach Boys song?” Then I’d wait while the boys finished reacting in shock to my unabashed use of the word “titular.” They’d sit there and — dare I say it? — titter for a moment while they stared at me, then attempt a few half-hearted answers. And they’d all be wrong. “Nope,” I’d say. “The Little Saint Nick is actually Santa’s sled.”

So there you have it — “Little Saint Nick” is just another car song in the California sound. It just so happens the car is a sled rather than Daddy’s t-bird, a super stocked Dodge, or a little deuce coupe. The song is actually a brilliant bit of self-parody in addition to being a fun Christmas tune. I’m sure that was obvious when the Boys released it in 1964, but over the years, I suspect most of us have forgotten what their early sound was, and how formulaic their topics and lyrics were. So now, it doesn’t seem so obvious.

And here’s the thing — I’ve since shared this bit of trivia many times, and every time, the person has acted as flabbergasted as I was. Maybe they’re just tired of hearing me talk (like you might be tired of reading my words by now), or maybe they’re just trying to be nice — let’s not upset the crazy man who’s so strangely excited over a stupid Christmas song. And that’s probably a good strategy, because once I tell someone, I enjoy their reaction and then move on, never to bother them again. Unless they’re Cub Scouts….


Merry Christmas, Saint Nick!
(Christmas comes this time each year.)
Ooooooo, Oooo!

Well away up north where the air gets cold,
There’s a tale about Christmas that you’ve all been told,
And a real famous cat all dressed up in red,
And he spends the whole year workin’ out on his sled.

It’s the little Saint Nick (oooo, little Saint Nick).
It’s the little Saint Nick (oooo, little Saint Nick).

Just a little bobsled; we call it Old Saint Nick.
But she’ll walk a toboggan with a four-speed stick.
She’s candy-apple red with a ski for a wheel.
And when Santa hits the gas, man, just watch her peel!

It’s the little Saint Nick (oooo, little Saint Nick).
It’s the little Saint Nick (oooo, little Saint Nick).

Run, run, reindeer!
Run, run, reindeer! (Whoa-oa-oa-oa!)
Run, run, reindeer!
Run, run, reindeer! (He don’t miss no one.)

And haulin’ through the snow at a frightening speed,
With a half a dozen deer, with a Rudy to lead,
He’s gotta wear his goggles ’cause the snow really flies,
And he’s cruisin’ every pad with a little surprise.

It’s the little Saint Nick (oooo, little Saint Nick)
It’s the little Saint Nick (oooo, little Saint Nick)

Merry Christmas, Saint Nick! (Christmas comes this time each year.)

Merry Christmas, Saint Nick! (Christmas comes this time each year.)

Merry Christmas, Saint Nick! (Christmas comes this time each year.)

Stocking stuffers:

Interlude 1:

The candles are burning low…


About Dan Bain

Dan is an award-winning humorist, features writer, emcee and entertainer from Raleigh, NC. His collection of humor essays, A Nay for Effort, has earned him fans from one end of his couch to the other. Why not join them and buy one? (You won't have to sit on his couch.) Dan will donate 10 percent of the book's proceeds to education. You can check it out at; thanks!
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2 Responses to The third song of Christmas: Not a who, but a what

  1. Cathryn says:

    Enjoyed your post.

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