Bob Dylan’s Christmas In the Heart might be the weirdest album in the entire genre of holiday albums despite the fact it is filled with traditional songs. When it was announced last year that Dylan would release a Christmas album, many were left wondering what it would sound like. Surely, Dylan would tap into the pre-rock blues or perhaps 1920s style that he’s been favoring in the past decade. And it of course, Dylan would sprinkle the entire project with a wink and a nod. After all, the idea of a Jew turned Born-Again Christian who is definitely not a Christian now, but may or may not be a Jew again, making a Christmas album is very absurd. This irony, probably isn’t lost on Dylan.
Instead, Dylan delivered a Christmas album full of traditional Christmas songs – “O Come All Ye Faithful” even contains a verse sung in Latin – that had everyone who heard it shaking their heads wondering just what the hell Dylan was doing. But, fans of Dylan should really know better. Dylan has always had a penchant for turning people’s heads and doing the unexpected, whether it was going electric, or turning into a Christian. In its own way, Christmas in the Heart is an ironic wink not to the perception of what a Bob Dylan Christmas album should sound like, and not the traditional view of a Christmas album as many people were expecting.
Because of the traditional and straight way in which the song are played (with the exception of “Must Be Santa” and “Christmas Island”) Christmas In The Heart comes off more as a novelty than game-changing. Most of the songs are dominated by piano, instead of guitar. Of course, there is humor in Dylan in the album particularly on “Do You See What I See?” Particularly when he asks, “Do you hear what I hear? Do you see what I see?” No one sees or hears what Dylan can, and he knows it. Similarly, when Dylan commands you to “listen to what I say” you wonder if he is throwing a punch at those who once viewed him a generation’s spokesman. “Must Be Santa” is straight-up singalong polka that remains the album’s sole highlight.
Ultimately, Christmas In the Heart will never be considered a Christmas classic. It’s also nothing something that will tarnish Dylan’s legacy either. The only people who will listen to it, are people like me, who each year will put it out simply based on the fact that it is Dylan singing Christmas songs.