If you have never heard Merry Christmas from the Family by Robert Earl Keen Jr., now is the time. Do that first and then come back. Try this version and for future reference, the live versions are always the way to go with this song.
This is the second part of our 3 post tribute to Robert Earl’s Christmas classic. Make sure you check out Blaze and his lyrical deep dive from yesterday here.
No art has ever been more accurate than the picture Robert Earl paints of a redneck Christmas family gathering in his timeless holiday classic, “Merry Christmas from the Family.” In case you were wondering what kind of family Christmas gathering he’s talking about, Robert Earl leaves no doubt with the first line of the song: Mom got drunk and dad got drunk, at our Christmas party.
As the first verse continues to explain how mom and dad got in such a state (champagne punch, homemade eggnog), we’re introduced to another member of the party who may one day be lucky enough to become a permanent member of this family, little sister’s new boyfriend, the Mexican.
Why mention his nationality you ask? Why should that matter? Well, in the context of this family, it does, and the reasons why are beautiful.
It matters because we’re dealing with a family of simple people. Now, to be sure, calling someone simple can oftentimes be an insult but I mean simple in reference to this particular family in the most endearing sort of way. They know what they like and they like doing it and doing it in the moment. This isn’t a family that thrives in planning ahead. Instead, they excel at thinking up quick solutions, such as sending someone to the Qwickpack store for some essentials (some ice and an extension cord) or when the Christmas lights are blown out because of Fred and Rita’s motorhome being just a bit too much for the electrical wirings for the host home to handle, cousin David springs into action. They roll with the punches. Not sweating the small stuff. But because they are so simple, they like to stick to things that are familiar to them (watching the ballgame, talking about AA with Kay).
So when little sister brings home her newest squeeze, her Mexican boyfriend, they’re just not sure how to take it. If you pause the song write after the boyfriend is introduced, you can almost audibly hear the thoughts going through their heads about what they know about Mexican culture and contemplating what on earth they are going to talk to this guy about. Things like their favorite things to order at Taco Bell come to mind, or that one time a Mexican boy played on one of their kid’s soccer teams and was their best player that everyone adored but that nobody could understand. All of this is and more is being processed as they take in little sister’s newest novio. And it’s all in an effort to welcome the young man into their humble abode. To have him join in on the party. The tension is palpable but it comes from a good place.
And how do you think the muchacho was feeling? Walking into a room full of tipsy gringo strangers can be intimidating. But sensing the awkwardness and wisely analyzing the simplicity of his future ex-in-laws, the young man surveys the scene, builds up the courage, and begins belting out “Feliz Navidad.” A card well played. You see, he probably was once the only Mexican kid on a soccer team and has no doubt been beaten down his whole life by non-Spanish speaking kids singing Feliz Navidad to him whether it was the time of year or not. But he puts all that aside to find common ground with his girl’s family and he accomplishes this in glorious fashion. It’s clear throughout the rest of the song that the chorale rendition of Feliz Navidad led by our Mexican amigo spurred on more partying and singing throughout the day. The family then goes on to be a bit more serious with their song selection by coming together to sing Silent Night when the Christmas lights are blown and then later a very peaceful rendition of The First Noel.
A good time was had by all that day but it could’ve gone all wrong if it weren’t for the open mind of a simple, fun loving family welcoming a stranger into their home who was not afraid to extend the olive brand in the form of a song.
“We didn’t know what to think of him, ‘til he sang Feliz Navidad, Feliz Navidad.” Just listen to the way Robert Earl sings the second Feliz Navidad. It’s as if he’s mimicking the unison found in the multiple voices of the family from the first Feliz Navidad to where they’re all kind of looking at each other for cues as to what they should do next to the second when they’re all singing together in unison with their eyes closed, no doubt. Heck, they even went on to “make margaritas when the eggnog’s gone” in honor of their new Mexican friend.
Bien hecho, you nameless Mexican boyfriend you. You saw how the defense was lined up and you called the right play. And best of luck to you when you try to tell them the ballgame they’re watching on TV is actually American football and not futbol.