This year, as you put the finishing touches on your home’s outdoor Nativity set display, take a mental survey: name five of your favorite Christmas songs. Chances are, the short list would include at least a few of these seasonal favorites:
“The Christmas Song”
“Baby It’s Cold Outside”
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas”
“Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer”
“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”
John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” (1971) might also make the list, vying with Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” (1979). On that list there might even be The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York,” which in various polls has been cited as the favorite Christmas song of all time in the U.K. and Ireland!
The funny thing is this—none of these aforementioned songs has much to do with Christmas per se. Yes, these non-liturgical songs may mention Santa Claus, winter weather, romance, and longing for one’s family during the holiday season, and they may all be enjoyable and appropriate for the season; but they barely allude, if at all, to the core narrative underlying all Christmas celebrations, namely, the birth of Jesus of Nazareth in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. In other words, the first Nativity. Continue reading “Music of the Nativity”
There was a boy singing a Christmas Carol at my door last night. I should like to have given him something.
— Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Of all the Christian holidays, Christmas must be the most sociable. Since at least Victorian times (and certainly before) it has been a season for family and friends to spend time together and engage in joyful group activities. And one of the most joyful of those activities is the making of music and the singing of holiday songs by outdoor Christmas carolers.
Imagine Christmastime without music or carols. It just wouldn’t be the same. And yet, ironically, in the very earliest years of Christianity there was no Christmastime to speak of, much less music to celebrate it. Easter—commemorating the miraculous resurrection of the crucified Jesus—was the main holiday of devout Christians. The birth of Jesus, by comparison, seemed an unimportant affair and simply was not celebrated.
In the fourth century, however, church officials decided to proclaim the birth of Jesus as a holiday. The history behind that proclamation illustrates the genius of Roman Catholicism for incorporating secular, pagan traditions into its religious rituals. One of those is the tradition of caroling.