Christmas Memories: Carols
As I sit here, writing to you with barely a voice worth hearing and a day away from going to see A Christmas Carol with my mom I am, naturally, thinking about caroling. Okay, that might be a stretch, but I had to start somewhere, right? It’s hard to think Christmasy when I have yet to hear more than a song or two over the radio and haven’t left my apartment properly since Thanksgiving. So let’s talk about carols, shall we?
To start I’m a little tempted to do some research on the history of Christmas carols and find their beginnings and go from there. I’m going to take a wild guess, instead, though, and say it probably had something to do with the Church, given the content of many of them. Instead of going back to their beginning, let’s go back to mine. Not my very beginning, mind you, just my beginning with carols. Can you remember your first Christmas carol? Can you remember learning “Jingle Bells”, or “Silent night?” I know for a fact that my favorite as a child was “Away in a Manger”. It had a baby in it and I was all about babies, apparently. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this, as I groggily got out of bed this morning; I don’t actually remember learning Christmas carols. They were just kind of always there.
We would sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” during advent with my mom. I remember learning the lyrics as we went, a new verse every week. I remember having a book of Christmas Carols sometime after I learned to play the piano that I was super excited about. I actually learned many of the lyrics from that, but I knew the songs, in concept if not in practice. I knew the tunes at the very least. I remember “We Three Kings” being a favorite in my adolescence, because of it’s minor key and grim verses about myrrh and what it foretold. I liked to pick out what I could of the tunes on my piano and learn the ones that I didn’t already know.
So I’m going to solve this mystery right now and just say I learned it all from my mom. I’m going to blame her for my vast knowledge of Christmas carols, because I’m sure, if there was a song to be sung, my mother was singing it at some point in my childhood. She is also the one who took us caroling. That’s right, actually caroling, as a child. It was often cold, but also a lot of fun, actually. We would make crafts; pine cone bird feeders or decorations, pop-sickle stick star ornaments, that sort of thing, and then take them with us as we went door to door with a group of friends, maybe my uncle’s church, and sing for strangers. We’d give them the little homemade gift, wish them a merry Christmas, and move on to the next house. In hind sight it would have been terrifying if I had been anywhere near the front and had to ring the doorbell. Then again, with a whole troupe of small people singing on your porch, who is going to be rude? In later years we would go to nursing homes and sing room to room. I even got to sign “Silent Night” for a lady who was hard of hearing; the coolest thing ever for a thirteen-year-old who just learned to sign. I definitely think it’s a thing that I would do again, if given the opportunity.
For me, there is a distinction between Christmas music and Christmas carols. The carols are timeless, they have endured centuries and survived to be sung by school kids in Christmas concerts all over the country. Not all of them are necessarily Christ based, but they all have this sort of understanding about the season, the joy and felicity that comes with having all your loved ones near, the fun in decorating, the enjoyment of the snow, the peace that love brings. They are beautiful, and classic, and I kind of love them. Of course, my favorites are all Christ based. “Angels We have Heard on High,” “Little Drummer Boy,” “Hark! The Harold Angel Sings.” The ones that we would sing in church on Christmas Eve, or sometime in December, before they found all the crazy random modern songs. Though I will admit, I really like “Carol of the Bells,” too. As I said, I like the traditions and it doesn’t get more traditional than Christmas Carols from the mid-1800s.
That’s not to say that all modern Christmas music is bad. There are quite a few Christmas songs that I really enjoy, but there’s just something special about the carols. It’s like hymns verses modern worship: modern worship may not be bad, but the hymns just somehow hold more depth to them, more expression. But, of course, we all know the Psalms are the only way to go. Anyway, I’ll be enjoying my Christmas carols this season, and I hope you will too. Have a very merry day, my friends.