Tuesday, December 2, 2008

On Christmas songs

Here is where I prove that I spend way too much thought on trivial matters.

We have reached the time of year when you can go nowhere without having Christmas music thrust at you. There is always at least one radio station playing nothing else. Invariably I will work with people who want to listen to it. Sometimes the Anglican in me wants to scream "IT'S NOT CHRISTMAS, IT'S ADVENT." For those of you who come from religious backgrounds that don't follow the liturgical year, Advent is the season that precedes Christmas. It is a season of preparation. It is a time for sober reflection and contemplation. And a daily piece of small candy. It is not a time for "Holly Jollies".

That rant aside, several years ago while listening to all of the Christmas music, I came to realize that "Christmas" music comes in several categories that can be arranged in order of decreasing relevance to the actual holiday of Christmas. I have inflicted this categorization on my family for several years, and now feel that it is time to inflict it on my readers. All three of you.

Category One: These are the true Christmas songs. Songs about the birth of the Christ, and all that attended it. If it's about the baby in the manger, the shepherds, the wise men, the star, the choruses of angels, or any mix of the above, it belongs in this category. Examples include "Silent Night", "Away in the Manger", "O Come, All Ye Faithful" and "We Three Kings". This category also includes songs that include events that are not in the Gospel accounts, but are still about the birth of Jesus, "The Little Drummer Boy", for example .

Category Two: These are songs about the secular trappings of Christmas; Santa Claus, his elves and reindeer, Christmas trees, presents, Caroling and the like. Example include "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", "O Christmas Tree", and "Deck the Halls".

Category Three: This is a slippery category. It is for songs that are about Christmas, but not any particular aspect of it. They may rely on secular imagery such as Christmas trees, but they are there just to set the scene. The central message is "Gee isn't Christmas wonderful". Examples include "White Christmas", 'I'll Be Home for Christmas", and "Chestnuts roasting on an open Fire". One subset of these songs is the songs that use Christmas as backdrop for commentary on the singer's love life, "Blue Christmas", for example.

Category Four: These are Christian songs that are not about Christmas, that somehow have been attracted to Christmas. Examples include "Joy to the World"(a song celebrating the coming of the Saviour, but not about His birth.), "The Halleluia Chorus" (it's from the Easter cycle of The Messiah), "O Come, O Come Emanuel" (it's an Advent carol), and "Good King Wenceslaus" (it's about a Medieval Saint, but it mentions the Feast of St. Stephen, December 26).

Category Five: These are winter songs, they are not about Christmas at all, just winter. "Jingle Bells", "Let It Snow", "Winter Wonderland", etc.

Category Six: These are secular songs that have nothing at all to do with Christmas or winter that have somehow gotten attached to Christmas. The prime modern offender is "My Favorite Things" from the Sound of Music.

So there it is, my over analysis of Christmas music. Don't get me wrong though. I love Christmas music, or at least most of it. The unfortunate fact is that the majority of the Christmas music played on radio and in public places comes from categories five and three, with a smattering of of category two. Actual Christmas songs, those from category one, are largely banned and if they are found it is in instrumental versions. Oh well.

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