The Absurd History Behind Christmas's Most Absurd Song
Perform a simple Google search for the terms "The Christmas Shoes" and you are bound to find several sprawling results.
For instance, you may see this first link and think, "This is The Christmas Shoes." But ask yourself, is it? Keep scrolling, and you'll see...
For many of us, the second option is The Christmas Shoes. Why shouldn't we think so? It has 10 million more views than the first video, so that means it must be the real version, right? Maybe searching under "Videos" is the problem. I bet, if I just do a normal Google search for "The Christmas Shoes", this confusion will clear itself right up.
What the holiday is this?! I mean, obviously this is The Christmas Shoes, right? It’s a full-length, Canadian-produced, made-for-TV film owned by Viacom starring national treasure Rob Lowe and garnering an 84% (!) rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Surely, this is the one and only The Christmas Shoes.
The truth of the matter is that they are all The Christmas Shoes. Welcome, fellow traveler, to the mad, mad world of The Christmas Shoeniverse.
Why do I see so many disparate yet apparently connected results when I Google The Christmas Shoes (TCS)? The history behind this piece of American Christmas lore is as short as it is absurd. TCS, originally titled Golden Shoes for Jesus, was published as a short story in 1997. A songwriter and his friend found the story online in 1998. Inspired, they wrote a song which debuted in 2000. Then, a book by a different author hit the shelves in 2001. In 2002, the television-movie treatment followed. That's how TCS expanded from nothing to an entire Shoeniverse in just five Christmases. But that’s not even the whole story.
The Christmas Shoes - The Story
The story behind The Christmas Shoes is unbelievably inspired by true events. Helga Schmidt of Newton, Kansas (the original author) claims to have lived the tale and wrote about it for her local paper. Her story gained popularity and was eventually published in Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul, the companion book of kind mothers everywhere. The original short story is as short, sappy, and sweet as the song. Chicken Soup hit the bookstores in 1997 and before long altered versions of Schmidt’s story were being circulated on the world wide web.
The story went viral and was read by an inspired if not enterprising soul: St. Louis radio host DC Chymes. He was so inspired, in fact, that he spent two years crafting a lyrical interpretation of the story with his buddy Eddie Carswell, songwriter for the contemporary Christian rock group Newsong.
The Christmas Shoes - The Song
It took these guys two years to write TCS song.
(I want to pause on that for a moment. Really reflect on what you just read – it took them over 700 days to write The Christmas Shoes. You need to decide for yourself if that’s okay or not.)
Newsong released their new song during Christmas 2000 to much acclaim and the song quickly became a Christian Christmas standard. Inspired by the song's success I mean message, wife of Newsong’s manager Donna VanLiere, without acknowledging Helga Schmidt even once, wrote and published an entire novel based on the song. VanLiere’s book dropped one year later in November 2001.
(Once again, let’s reflect on the fact that it took these two guys two years to write the song and VanLiere about nine months to publish an entire novel about it. Let those facts sink in.)
The Christmas Shoes - The Book
The book was not shy about its inspiration, though it was confused about it. The book claims to be based on the song without acknowledging that the song itself is based on Helga Schmidt’s story. You can read the first couple dozen pages of it on Google if you are so inclined. Personally, I cannot recommend it. The narrator’s voice possesses a sense of emptiness that we never quite get away from. It’s as if even VanLiere knew this was a heartless money grab and subconsciously felt badly for it.
TCS the book has fantastic ratings on Goodreads, Google, and Amazon. You should absolutely go buy it because that’s why VanLiere wrote it. Nothing screams American Christmas more than a shameless money grab. And hey, speaking of transparent money grabs, it turns out our neighbors to the north are capable of snatching money too.
The Christmas Shoes - The Movie
In 2002 a CBS-produced, Canadian-television, based-on-the-book version of TCS graced our eyeballs just a year and a month after the book came out. One reviewer panned the film as ‘mawkish, melodramatic mush’, which is more Ms than you need to say it’s a bad movie. Hard for me to judge, though; I haven’t seen it. Rotten Tomatoes likes the film and shopping sites like Best Buy rate it highly. Those results are skewed, however, because anyone who is willing to pay for TCS is going to give it six or seven stars. Anyway, 2002 not only introduced The Shoeniverse to the world of film, but also to the world of music films.
The Christmas Shoes - The Official Music Video
The official music video was released in conjunction with the film in 2002, which explains Rob Lowe’s ever-welcomed cameos. What it doesn’t explain is what most of the members of Newsong do, exactly. They never move. Why?! It’s unclear to me if any of these fellas can even play an instrument. Billy Goodwin, the man with the beard and the inexplicable baseball cap (which to me feels like a hat on a hat) is the band’s lead singer, not even the guy who wrote the song. But I’m getting off-track.
While this is the official music video entry to the Shoeniverse, it is not the final music video. The final video, unauthorized though it may be, came out five years later. During the half-decade in between, two more books and two more movies crossed into The Shoeniverse.
The Christmas Shoes - The Sequels
A year after the film’s release in 2003, VanLiere somehow found the inspiration to publish yet another TCS book in her newly announced The Christmas Hope series. The first sequel, The Christmas Blessing, received a film adaptation in 2005, two years after the book's publication. The Christmas Blessing movie stars Neil Patrick Harris (of all people) as the grown-up Little Boy who now has a family of his own. Spoiler, the mom meets Jesus. (Just kidding, I haven’t seen it.) Also in 2005, a month before The Christmas Blessing movie premiered, VanLiere completed her hat trick with the trilogy’s final chapter, The Christmas Hope. The film adaptation was released four years later in 2009.
Canon though they may be, I personally didn’t even know the sequels existed in part due to the popularity of the Shoeniverse's final entry. When most of us think of The Christmas Shoes, we think of a sad, dirty little boy and a baseball-capped man, aggressively chewing his bubble gum.
The Christmas Shoes - The Unofficial Music Video
Fan art is still art. Occasionally, fan art even outshines the source material. Such is the case of The Christmas Shoes.
Produced as a film school project in 2007, the unofficial music video has more views than the official video because it has an abundance of what the official video lacks – heart. Like the original story, this version takes a "no-frills" approach to the tale. There are no useless bandmates in the background here – just the song’s lyrics, depicted at face value. The unofficial video perfectly defines what The Christmas Shoes legend should be– a sincere interpretation of a sad story. Instead, and quite regrettably, the legend of The Shoeniverse is defined by the three Cs of the apocalypse: capitalism, Christmas, and Christianity.
The Christmas Shoes - The Legend
There you have it – the short but absurd history of how The Shoeniverse expanded from short story to song to book to movie to music video to more books and more movies to yet another music video. Trying to describe The Shoeniverse reminds me of the parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant: it is true that TCS is a book; it is true that it is a short story; it true that it is a song; it is true that it is a movie; all of these things are true. But what the blind men can’t see is what the elephant truly is as a whole – a heaping pile of Christmas Schmidt.
I feel badly for Helga Schmidt, author of the original short story. From what I can tell, she has not received any royalties from these sycophants stealing her intellectual property. What’s especially impressive about this heist is the fact that The Christmas Shoeniverse was in no way a coordinated effort. This isn’t like the MCU – there was no "Jesus Whedon" mapping out phase one of The Shoeniverse. It was born out of good old-fashioned, exploitative American capitalism. But whether I like it or not (I don't), one thing is undeniably true: this sad little story has touched the hearts of millions. Maybe that is the true miracle of The Christmas Shoes.