By Craig Funston
There are really old Christmas carols, and then there are those pleasant songs that have appeared in the last few decades. I suggest a third grouping, namely, those mindless, inane ditties. These are the ones we’re bombarded with if we’re in the wrong store at the wrong time.
Maybe it’s an age thing, but the older I get, the more I like the older music.
It could be that I appreciate meaningful content in a meaningless world, or possibly I sense the more serious side of the season, and frivolous lyrics just don’t cut it for me any more.
Let me set the tone here: I confess I’m in your face today with my opinions. As I write, it is still a free country and the Stalinist mindset hasn’t kicked in…yet. I am simply expressing my personal viewpoint, without any hard facts to force you to believe me. Opinions notwithstanding, I think you would agree that the older carols do have significance and substance, wouldn’t you?
Simply put: Today’s column, then, is dealing with opinions, memories, and reflections. Whether you agree with me or not is another thing.
I’m working backwards in my comments on my “hit” list (pun mercilessly intended), as follows:
As stated in an earlier column, Christmas is both a historical and a biblical event. To ignore and devalue its historical significance to the point of insatiable greed, kissing under the mistletoe, grabbing more than giving, and all the drinking binges, is a tragedy–a mindless charade of the real thing, if you will.
To put that behaviour to lyrics, then “sing” about it, calling it a Christmas song, is an affront.
That middle group of songs are the ones that I hum and even enjoy myself: Light and shallow, they don’t have a lot of substance, to be honest with you, but they have a nice, homey storyline and good rhythm. They’re harmless, I suppose, though they clearly miss the significance of Christmas.
After all, while I do like the following, they miss the essence of Christmas: not being being home for (a blue) Christmas; or dreaming of a white Christmas (that I’ll be home for, but only in my dreams); or coming home with (those silver) bells on; or finally, those six white boomers (dashing through the snow on a one-horse open sleigh)? (And yes, Maurice, I intentionally mixed the songs up),
I’ll limit my annual rant about Santa Claus and his seeming divine ability. Suffice to say, Christmas is not about a fat dude in red and white jump suit, shouting at reindeer that miraculously fly. And with a belly like that, he couldn’t possibly slip down anyone’s chimney.
Why, he can hardly slip into his pants.
But back to thinking of the old ones: For example, when I hark back to the sort of themes that Handel wrote about in his Messiah, for example, I am moved with deep emotion. If we try to categorize them, we do see some common themes—of angels, stars, shepherds, baby Jesus, the manger, joy, and genuine worship.
Mommy kissing Santa Claus? I don’t think so.
Here I go again, with my persistent yearning for themes with “substance.” These are rich themes that I find in these “older” Christmas hymns. I don’t think you have to be so-called religious or even “mature” to appreciate the depth of these songs that both men and women, young and old, penned for us, two, three, or four hundred years ago.
I think I’m consistent in this thinking: I also lament the trivialization of death, the glibness of war, the hollowness of marriage, and the cheapness of sex. Good old-fashioned Christmas carols are part of the collateral damage of a juvenile culture.
So for this Christmas, would you be able to make the effort to sing one really old Christmas hymn? Hum it? Okay, maybe look at the words? Or if that’s a stretch, could you at least have it playing in the background? Plan to have a “ditty-free” day at least just once over the holidays.
Meaning and significance: these are two missing ingredients in our culture’s quest for identity. And Christmas is easily the most opportune time to regain that ground for said genuineness.
Over 300 years ago, the Christmas hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, expressed the following words: “O come, Desire of nations, bind all peoples in one heart and mind. Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease; fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.”
That’s a great message for Christmas, isn’t it?