Monday, December 14, 2015

The Joy of Christmas Music

One of the most amazing aspects of the Christmas season is the music. There are so many Christmas carols, it’s hard even to count them all. If you took all the music associated with the other 47 holidays on the calendar — including National Doughnut Day and Take Your Goldfish to Work Day — and added them all up, the total number of songs wouldn’t even come close to the number of Christmas carols recorded by Andy Williams alone during 1966.

It’s no contest. All of our other holidays combined have, at most, 100 different songs (and that’s if we include everything John Philip Sousa ever wrote under the category “Fourth of July”).

Christmas has literally thousands of different songs, with new ones coming out each year. Maybe that’s why retail stores blare Christmas carols over the PA system beginning on November 1st. They need two full months to play every song. No, that can’t be right. I was in Target the other day for only 30 minutes, but I heard my favorite religious carol, “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” at least four times. I guess some stores like to repeat the really heart-warming holiday songs.

Adding to this glut of Christmas tunes is the fact every single person in the music industry—including every studio engineer and every record company parking lot attendant—feels compelled to release a Christmas album. Is there anything more poignant than hearing Lady Gaga screech out her version of “Away in a Manger,” or Kanye West’s special hip-hop interpretation of “We Three Dogs of Orient Be”? (First verse: “We three dogs of Orient be / Bearing bling to give to J.C.”)

To be serious for just a moment, which is very difficult for me to do, there are some secular Christmas songs that are very poignant and nostalgic, such as “White Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Here are a couple of fun facts, brought to us by those know-it-alls at Google: the lyrics for “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” were written by Kim Gannon during World War II, and sung from the point of view of a soldier far from home. Record companies rejected the song as too gloomy, but Gannon had a chance to sing it for Bing Crosby, who decided to record it. The song ended up being the flip side of Crosby’s “White Christmas” record. (How’d you like to own an original copy of that vinyl disk?) It became Bing’s fifth gold record, and by December of 1944 the song was the most requested number by military personnel at USO shows.

On the other hand, there are some downright awful secular Christmas songs. “Santa Baby” and the Grandma-Reindeer number come to mind. (In case you couldn’t tell, I was kidding earlier when I said that one is my favorite religious carol.)

However, as people of faith, despite the popularity of many secular Christmas songs, this is our golden opportunity to play overtly religious carols. We all know those angry folks at the Freedom From Happiness Foundation (or whatever it’s called) are working overtime to remove religious Christmas carols from school concerts. But there’s nothing stopping us from playing that music in our homes, in our cars, or on our computers at work.

And if, like me, you consider Bing Crosby to be the Voice of Christmas, Der Bingle recorded some terrific classics, such as “Silent Night,” “The First Noel,” and “Adeste Fideles” (O Come All Ye Faithful).

So enjoy this amazing time of year with so many incredible and memorable musical choices. But try to emphasize the tunes that proclaim the true meaning of this season: Christ is born! 

And definitely try to include my all-time favorite Christmas carol, the one that brings a tear to my eye every time: “O Holy Night” by Andy Williams. It doesn’t get any better than that.

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