Written by group founder Chris Butler, in this song a woman meets a guy at a ski shop and gets his number. As the year goes by, they make dates, but for different reasons they can't get together. The woman is exhausted and ready to spend Christmas alone, but when she goes out for cranberry sauce to complete her meal, she runs into this guy and finds out he is also spending the holidays alone. Finally, they get together, giving her a merry Christmas after all.
The title is a play on "Christmas Rappin'
," a 1979 song by Kurtis Blow that was the first rap song released on a major label.
In 1981, rap music was just starting to enter the mainstream, and The Waitresses used a spoken style that could be considered rapping. Also, Chris Butler liked the play on the word "wrap," since the story wraps around, coming full circle at the end.
Inspiration for this song came from the magical Christmas feeling engendered in New York City that is seen in movies like Miracle on 34th Street
. It's the idea that things will somehow work out in the end. "There is a feeling in New York that there is something in the background cooking around that time of year," Chris Bulter said in a Songfacts interview
. "It does make things work out OK."
In 1981, this song was released as a single and appeared on the compilation A Christmas Record
, which featured Christmas songs by various ZE Records artists, including Was (Not Was) and Davitt Sigerson.
The song got some airplay in America, and another version of the compilation was released the following year. Over the next few years, however, the song died out in America. The turnaround came in 1987 when the A Very Special Christmas
album was released, opening the market for edgy Christmas songs by contemporary artists. As radio programmers filled their holiday playlists with tracks from the album like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
" by John Mellencamp and "Christmas in Hollis
" by Run-D.M.C., they looked for other songs with a similar feel, and plugged in "Christmas Wrapping." The song gradually found an audience and has remained a staple of many Christmas playlists ever since.
When Chris Butler wrote this song, he was not feeling very festive. The Waitresses were signed to ZE Records, whose boss, Michael Zilkha, asked the bands on his roster to each come up with a Christmas song that would go on a holiday compilation issued by the label. The Waitresses were in the middle of a grueling tour, and weren't happy about the task, especially since it was July and they weren't exactly in the Christmas spirit.
Butler was a notorious Scrooge, so this was a particularly daunting task. He banged out the song very quickly, writing the last of the lyrics in a taxi from his apartment in New York to Electric Lady Studios, where they recorded it. The end result was a very uplifting Christmas song with a happy ending.
"I think my subconscious wanted something to cure me of my Grinch-hood, to fabricate this story where I'm in touch with some kind of force in the background that is working for good," he told us. "It does kind of work out sometimes like this. And it's what people want. A lot of songwriting for me was fulfilling fantasies of how I wish the world was. I wish the world was a certain way, and I wish that there really was something wonderful in the background working, especially around that time, that made everything turn out okay."
The title does not appear in the lyrics, which made it difficult to request on radio stations. Listeners would often describe the song or sing parts of it to identify it for the DJ.
Most Christmas songs invoke traditions and togetherness, but this one is about a girl spending Christmas alone in New York City. Single folks spending Christmas away from their families is an under-served market when it comes to Christmas songs, unless you count the many "blue" Christmas songs about holiday heartbreak. Chris Butler had spent some Christmases alone, however, and knew what it was like. "I did have to create my own Christmas," he told us. "I put up my one stocking in my nonfunctional studio apartment in my fireplace that had been bricked up."
This was the third song released by The Waitresses. They were fronted by Patty Donahue, who sang in a spoken style (Donahue died on December 9, 1996 at the age of 40 after battling lung cancer for almost a year). Their previous single was "I Know What Boys Like
," which was released in 1980 but didn't chart until 1982.
The Saturdays covered the song for the 2014 holiday movie, Get Santa.
The Spice Girls recorded this in 1998 as the B-side to "Goodbye
In the UK, this song charted when it was first released in 1981 and has remained a holiday favorite. This is a little odd, since the song takes place in America and has references to American traditions, like eating cranberry sauce with turkey.
This song had a profound effect on its writer many years after it was first released. Chris Butler fell into a depression after The Waitresses broke up in 1984. "Enough time had passed that I didn't feel any connection to it either as a writer or a player," he told us. "But I swear, I kind of inadvertently paid this forward to pull me out of my funk. Because when I hear it on the radio, and I usually do at least once a year, it's when I least expect it. It's when I've got my head down and I'm grumbling my way through. Then I hear it coming out of a shoe store or something, and I go, 'All right. Lighten up. Come on, man, it's Christmas.' I swear. I get blindsided by it every time."
The book About A Boy (and its movie and TV show adaptations) is about a guy who lives off royalties from a Christmas song. That story isn't too far off from Chris Butler's, as this song has allowed him to "extend his adolescence." Butler says royalties from the song provide him a "comfortable middle-class return."
The A&P mentioned in the lyric is a chain of grocery stores in the Northeast. The song is peculiar in that our hero finds herself at a grocery store on Christmas, which can really happen in New York, but probably not at the A&P. Chris Butler envisioned the cranberry sauce run taking place at Smiler's, a 24-hour grocery in The City. He made it an A&P because it fit the line: "A&P has provided me with the world's smallest turkey."
Kylie Minogue and Iggy Pop recorded this for Minogue's 2015 Christmas album Kylie Christmas.
This was used in many holiday-themed TV episodes, including the following:
Scream Queens ("Black Friday" - 2015)
The Vampire Diaries ("O Come, All Ye Faithful" - 2012)
The Office ("Christmas Wishes" - 2011)
Glee ("Extraordinary Merry Christmas" - 2011)
Malcolm In The Middle ("Hal's Christmas Gift" - 2004)
Gilmore Girls ("Forgiveness And Stuff" - 2000)
Only Fools And Horses ("Christmas Crackers" - 1981)
Haim released "Christmas Wrapping 2020 (All I Want for Christmas is a Vaccine)
," their Hanukkah-centric take on the song. For their updated rendition of The Waitresses' holiday classic, Este, Alana, and Danielle Haim teamed up with Slave Play
writer, Jeremy O. Harris, to pen new lyrics specific for 2020. From promoting small business and referencing the US election to cutting their own hair and reminding us to "stay in place," the sister trio cover every aspect of the strange year. Their interpretation also features bass by Thundercat and keys from Frank Ocean collaborator Buddy Ross.