‘Crabs For Christmas’: A Tuneful Baltimore Tradition (Really!)

By Neda Ulaby  |  NPR – All Things Considered

David DeBoy


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Actor David DeBoy admits the name of his signature song, “Crabs for Christmas,” carries a potentially unsavory whiff — but only outside of Baltimore, where crabs are a delicacy much the way of lobsters in Maine or crawfish in New Orleans. Back in 1981, DeBoy managed to get his novelty song on local radio, and was shocked when the single sold more than 10,000 copies that year.

“When the song was first released, I was performing it at events all by myself,” he writes in an email. But the popularity of “Crabs for Christmas” led to other Baltimore-themed Christmas songs, then to albums and finally to a live show he performs with his backup singers, The Hons. Since 2008, their annual revue has sold out the upstairs cabaret at Germano’s, a restaurant in Baltimore’s Little Italy neighborhood. DeBoy says the original “Crabs for Christmas” still gets spun on a few local stations.

DeBoy’s Baltimore Christmas songs revel in the city’s distinctive regional accent and its kitschy, working-class sensibility, as immortalized by local filmmaker John Waters. (DeBoy played a lecherous doctor in Waters’ 2004 movie, A Dirty Shame.) Throughout his cabaret show, DeBoy refers to beloved Baltimore basics — or if you will, cliches — such as beehive hairdos, sauerkraut and scrubbing marble stoops.

“You know, where we grew up, there [were] no … marble stoop,” observes audience member Mark Jascewsky rather wistfully. He’s originally from Chicago and moved to the Baltimore area in 1989. “There were no hubcaps hanging in the tree. But [DeBoy’s] lyrics portray such a vivid picture. You can imagine it very easily and it brings that part of Baltimore’s history to your life.”

In fact, DeBoy’s songs have become part of Jascewsky’s own family traditions. His three kids say they all particularly enjoy a number that ends with a cat being electrocuted. It’s called “Aluminum Christmas Tree.”

Another member of the audience, self-identified “Balti-moron” Dan White, appreciates the merry mingling of Christmas and regional nostalgia. “It’s one of those kind of sentiments that can carry you throughout the whole year,” he says.

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