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Serena Ryder Is Ringing In The Holidays With A Fresh Twist On A Classic Tune

The Canadian folk-rock powerhouse discusses all things Christmas and her new single, “I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus.”

by Ben Boddez

Photo by Dzesika Devic

We all know the classic tale: an inquisitive child, creeping down the stairs on Christmas Eve, observes their mother locked in a passionate embrace with Father Christmas himself – unbeknownst to the youngster, with dreams of reindeer, elves and a magical man in a big red suit still in their head, a hilarious misunderstanding has occurred. Of course, it’s really the child’s father in the suit, and no infidelity has taken place. This year, with her new holiday single “I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus,” folk-rock titan Serena Ryder asks: what does this tale look like today?

Following up her 2018 full-length Christmas Kisses, Ryder’s latest is a delightfully jazzy spin on a classic, finding her updating the lyrics of a 1952 holiday tune to reflect the romantic diversity of a modern world. “It’s a twist on the vibe, production, and of course lyrics that open it up and make it more inclusive for everyone today to enjoy. Daddy kissing Santa is a nod to the fact that many of our households look different today than they did when the original was released,” Ryder says. “To me, Santa as a character is about spreading love and joy to our families and children, and anybody can dress as Santa to do so – dads, moms, whoever. And when the kids are in bed, who wouldn’t want to snuggle up with their own personal Santa for a kiss?!”

We caught up with Serena Ryder below to discuss her new single, Bob Ross, and all things she loves about the holiday season.

You released a full album of Christmas covers before – what’s your approach to tackling some of the most recognizable tunes in the world?

With the Christmas album and also with this new “Daddy’s Kissing Santa Claus” situation, I’ve always loved being able to sing kind of crooner-y, jazzy music. I also like to leave room for art to happen. So it’s always been a mystery to me, especially with this “Daddy’s Kissing Santa Claus,” it was me and three other musicians in my studio, live off the floor, just staring at each other while we were recording it. Leaving space for art to happen, to create itself, it’s always this mystery that I’ll never solve, and never want to solve, and always want to be in the middle of. How does this work? I don’t even know! I’ve been doing it for 30 years and I still have no idea.

Are there any other Christmas songs that you think could be updated in similar ways to “Daddy’s Kissing Santa Claus”?

Oh my gosh, absolutely. I have actually updated a couple other ones lyrically on my last record. I sang “dressed up in ties and bows,” [on “The Christmas Song”] instead of… you know. There are a lot of lyrics that need to be updated because we’re all here, we all love each other, let’s all be here together.

What are some of your favourite Christmas songs?

That one that I just sang is one of my favourite ones, “The Christmas Song.” But I also love “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” so much, and I think it’s because of Home Alone. That’s how I learned it, Home Alone, in the first one where he’s got all of the cutout things. I love rockabilly music, I love country music, I love jazz.

What’s the most underrated holiday movie?

Krampus! My favourite holiday movie is Elf. 100%. I watch it even during the year because I love Will Ferrell, I think he’s just brilliant and wonderful.

What do you think a good Christmas song needs to have?

That it comes from a good place, that it comes from a warm, loving place. This time of year is about bringing people together, people being able to sing together, and being able to be in community. There’s so much pain in the world, right now especially, and I feel like it’s so important for us to have community and to have music. Music is the greatest healer in the world.

What’s the worst Christmas song?

The worst Christmas song is also the best Christmas song, “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas.” It’s like, no, you don’t get a hippopotamus!

You’ve been interested in deconstructing some of the ideas behind Christmas, dating back to the myths that started it all. Do you have anything people might not know that you’d like to spread?

Yeah! I do! OK, so Christmas actually started based on solstice festivals. The solstice is the 21st of December. So that’s where it all started, which was pagan ritual time. People were having parties; basically it was a week-long almost Mardi Gras. And then Santa Claus actually was a monk in 430 AD, who gave away all his earthly possessions – well, who we know as Santa Claus now, because the story kept changing. That’s why I love the mythology behind things, where things started and how they’ve changed and why they’ve changed and who it’s suited to to tell this story and why. Now it’s buying stuff or whatever, ignoring the other things that are happening in the world. But really it’s about the solstice, celebrating the light coming back into the world. It was the darkest into the lightest time of the year, and that’s something to celebrate. Being with community and eating, feeling good, being healthy and staying together.

What do the holidays mean to you? What are some of the things that you look forward to the most?

For me, I’ve always found Christmas to be a bit of a difficult time of year. Over the years I always kind of stayed away from Christmas. But since I’ve been making Christmas music, what I’ve been looking forward to is this tour, and something that I’m going to be doing now every year, which is really great. My Christmas tradition is getting to sing these songs, and being on tour. I also love being able to spend time with my family, which not everybody gets to do – not everybody has family. Chosen family is good too, but for me it’s about music and pajamas and eating and laying around, which I’m so good at – all of those things. Embracing that kind of hibernation time a little bit.

Does your family have any unique Christmas traditions?

I like to turn on the fake fireplace on Netflix. Also, I really like to watch Bob Ross. I turn it on just in the background because Christmas can get a little weird sometimes. You take any adult and put them together with their family, and there’s always going to be something that’s a little uncomfortable or weird. But you put Bob Ross on, everything’s fixed. I actually learned that from my niece.

What’s the best Christmas gift you’ve ever received?

I never really think about these things. I don’t. I ask people to not give me things. I don’t need stuff, I just love being able to be around the people who I love, which feels great.