Christmas music, much like the holiday itself, features two very different, and sometimes competing, influences: “Ho Ho Ho” joviality, and the nativity of Christ. It’s sufficed to say that Frosty the Snowman is not topping my list of favs.
First, a brief history of Christmas music – very brief, since reputable sources on this topic are scarce. Hymns specifically about Christmas began appearing in the fourth century AD, but it wasn’t until the 13th century that Christmas carols became popular, thanks in part to monks like Frances of Assisi who saw the Nativity as a relatable, human event. However, historian Clement Miles points out that even when John Audelay collected and wrote down 25 Christemas Carols in English in the 15th century, not all of the songs were religious in nature. A good number of them were wassails, a tradition with pagan roots. Perhaps this fear of staining the religious observance of Christmas is why Cromwell outlawed Noel celebrations, including music, in 1653. Slowly, Christmas music rebounded, and many of the traditional Christmas songs we know today were written in the centuries afterward.
Then of course, who can forget White Christmas, the hit song of the 1942 movie Holiday Inn, sung by the crooner himself? Suddenly, Christmas music was a commercial prospect, a way to cash in on the nostalgia that people so desperately sought during this time of year, and thus arose a whole new generation of recordings. Today, every musician, talented or not, releases a Christmas album, even if they have nothing new to offer. Let’s also not forget the incessant playing of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in department stores beginning the day after Halloween.
Wow, I guess I can see now why people hate Christmas music. But seriously, while it’s true that anything performed by Spike Jones makes me die a little inside, I really cannot get tired of Casting Crowns’ Peace on Earth CD. My favorite Christmas song, however, is one I’ve never heard. What did it sound like, I wonder, when a great company of the heavenly host sang, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men? Triumphant, certainly, and perhaps full of love so fierce, it made the tears smart in your eyes to hear it. ♦