Singing a Carol
Well, summer has finally hit my home town of Brisbane – it’s hot, humid and just a little uncomfortable! With the arrival of summer comes the acknowledgement that Christmas is almost here…now for my northern hemisphere readers – stick with me even though the concept of a hot summer Christmas might be a little odd. Personally I love the festive season. I love putting up the tree – even though I get all scratched-up by the synthetic pine needles. I love taking a few weeks annual leave from the frantic pace that occupies the rest of the year…and I love singing Christmas Carols. There I said it! I love singing carols, I love hearing carols – I love Christmas Carols. Actually, I think many of us are unprofessed carol lovers…go on…admit it…you’re among friendsJ.
My love for Carols and their unique sound commenced during my childhood in Lismore, NSW. One year I presented, along with my classmates from St Carthage’s Primary, a choral presentation of a few classic carols. There was something about that ‘very ordinary’ childhood experience that cemented a fondness for the Christmas Carol forever into my psyche. I cannot explain what was so special about that experience and why it has lived with me as a distinct memory ever since – but since that 1980’s summer evening Christmas Carols have played a significant part in my personal Christmas tradition.
The first Christmas Carol is widely accepted as the angelic choral proclamation “Gloria in exelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis” at the birth of Christ as accounted for in Luke 2:14. Since the angelic host gave voice to the first Christmas tidings, Carols have undergone many evolutionary developments. For instance at one stage Carols where only sung by Catholic priests; and only ever in Latin. It was not until the 1600’s that Carols became a grouping of hymns employed only during the Christmas season. Before this, Carols were often sung during other festive times of the Christian calendar.
Perhaps this is one of the wonderful things about Christmas Carols; they are steeped in history and tradition. For instance when we sing the originally Latin, hymn of praise, O Come, All Ye Faithful, we give voice to a text possibly written in the 1300’s by John of Reading. The ever popular Hark the Herald Angels Sing (a personal favourite) was written by Charles Wesley in 1739 and is set to music composed by Mendelssohn. Even children’s carols like Jingle Bells (1857) have a history dating back beyond a century.
Allow me to be really cheeky…even Charismatics and Pentecostals sing Christmas Carols – a predominantly hymn based idiom! Why? Well the wide appeal of the Christmas Carol is so iconic in Western culture that it has yet to be usurped by a modern alternative. I know that as a Pentecostal worship pastor during the late nineties I always found myself presenting a predominantly hymn based Christmas service to a congregation which were more accustomed to the pop driven chorus. In reflection – I never received a single complaint! The fact is that people (unless they are a Christmas Grinch) love Carols – even chorus loving Pentecostals.
And so I conclude – there are many aspects of Christmas tradition that divide us: what colour theme should adorn the Christmas tree; should you address letters to Santa via the “True North Pole” or the “North Magnetic Pole”; and how much is too much pudding? Perhaps the one thing that unites us, Pentecostals and Tradionalists, Christian and non-Christian, is the humble Christmas Carol. This Christmas – sing a Christmas Carol and sing it strong.