Here below is a post pasted in from my blog about the song when it first came out last year:
With the delay of a promising new album until February (hopefully),
U2 fans were of course thrilled to hear that the boys had recorded a special song for release today (World AIDS day) with the launch of RED Wire Music
But even I was taken aback at what it was.
First, U2 is not (with a few amazing exceptions) at their best at cover songs.
It is a cover of Greg Lake's (ELP) 1975 "I Believe in Father Christmas."
It was actually basically a new song for me.
The vibe of U2's version is great (Edge's chime etc), it's basically a prayer(like all songs they write or beg/borrow/steal/steal back) and hey, the lyrics even mention the Virgin Birth and heaven and hell...
Though it usually seen as an "anti-commercialism of Christmas song":
"I find it appalling when people say it's politically incorrect to talk about Christmas, you've got to talk about 'The Holiday Season.' Christmas was a time of family warmth and love. There was a feeling of forgiveness, acceptance. And I do believe in Father Christmas." -Lake
"People say it's antireligious...when in reality it was really objecting to the commerciality of Christmas.. it's about the joy of giving" -Lake, audio here
There is some debate over how much for (or against) Christ the original lyric it is. Many see it as disillusioned atheist's profession of hope without Christ. Some even see it as a Lake's way of confessing conversion to Christ:
"They sold me a dream of Christmas,
They sold me a silent night,
They told me a fairy story,
Till I believed in the Israelite."
Could it be that Bono has (in a similar "theological correction" sense as he did with "People Get Ready" see 10/6/05 post here) changed the original "till i believed in the Israelite" (the narrator is talked into believing) to "But I believed". Which changes...everything. No longer is the narrator lamenting being sold a bill of goods about Christmas/Christ, but celebrating belief in Christ in spite of the religious way "they" manipulated him into "believing."
LATER NOTE: As always, I should've checked Beth's blog first. I just found her post on facebook:
Beth is delighted at U2's completely reworking the theology of ELP's "Father Christmas" for their cover of it today, by only changing, wait for it.... *two words*.Oh, now I hear the other lyric tweak, Bono says "I believe," dropping the d, and the doubt.
ok ok it's been pointed out to me that a switch from past to present tense should count as a word. THREE words.
I had to smile in admiration at the very minor but very thoughtful lyric changes that turn Lake's text into something not just potentially, but authentically, U2ey. Did you catch them? "They sold me a Merry Christmas, they sold me a Silent Night, they sold me a fairy story..." is transmuted into something more like Popmart's "I wanted to meet God but they sold me religion" by one little shift: no longer did "they" keep selling "till I believed in the Israelite"; no, they can try to sell such holiday fantasies all they want "but I believe in the Israelite."
And the end of the original second verse, one assumes the implication is that the once-hopeful little boy awakes, exhausted and bleary-eyed, to witness his father dressed as Santa and realize the whole thing's a shuck ("I awoke with a yawn in the first light of dawn and saw him -- and through his disguise.") But U2 create a whole different feel by taking out that one little "and," so that the narrator now says that he watched in hope, woke at dawn, and "I saw him through his disguise." Another idea that we've heard many times before from this band.
Regrading the subtle, sneaky, subversive "through his disguise" change, catch Bono's subtle "holy smirk" as he is about to convert that line; he knows exactly what he's doing!
Click to watch
Inevitably, it's also on YouTube:
..and his 1994 version:
ELP (and not just P) finally recorded the song as a group.
As the song says:
"The Christmas we get, we deserve."