A modern-day Christmas carol
by Andy Bryenton
There’s a tradition in New Zealand that Christmas hasn’t really begun until you hear the song Snoopy’s Christmas by the Royal Guardsmen played in public. The song has been a hit here on many non-consecutive Yuletides, but the story behind it is not well known.
Voted both New Zealand’s favourite and most annoying Christmas song, at the same time, the catchy tune at first appears to make only a passing mention of the holidays. It’s more about the rivalry between Charles Schulz’s beloved beagle character Snoopy and Baron Manfred Von Richthofen, who was a real baron, owning vast tracts of the German province of Silesia. The end of the song, however, when the baron toasts Snoopy and wishes him a Merry Christmas instead of shooting down his plane, is a reference to the real Christmas ceasefire, which happened in the first world war, on December 25, 1914. On this day German and Allied soldiers shared their rations, played football and sang carols together.
The recording of the song is even more bizarre. The band who created it, the Royal Guardsmen, deliberately tried to look and sound English, and took an English name, to emulate the wildly popular Beatles. However, they all came from Florida and had never been to Britain. They had read a 1965 comic strip in which Snoopy battled the baron, and used it as inspiration for a song in 1966. However, they didn’t ask Charles Schulz for permission, and the creator of Snoopy got all the royalties from what became a hit. Schulz generously told the Royal Guardsmen that they could use Snoopy in further songs with his blessing. Now, here’s the irony.
This first song was not about Christmas at all! Snoopy v The Red Baron was just about the comic strip. The Christmas song we’ve come to love was a holiday parody. A comical remake knocked out in just one evening to sell vinyl singles in the Christmas season. While the original (with no mention of the holidays and the baron earnestly trying to shoot Snoopy down) has been covered as a ska, punk, lounge and country song, the Yuletide anthem only really took off here and in Australia. Music historians think that a combination of our lack of a seasonal carol for the southern hemisphere, and the pride both nations feel for the first world war Anzacs, who would have been on Snoopy’s side against Von Richthofen, contributed to this popularity.