Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Christmas Music

We've got a real problem with Christmas music.

No, I'm not talking about the silly accusations of a secularist "War on Christmas" that Fox News shouters Bill O'Reilly and Jon Gibson have been yammering about. I'm talking about the music that passes for Christmas music.

Our culture's celebration of Christmas has lots of problems (Robert Gonzalez is making a list of commercials linking sex and Christmas), but I figure we've had some kind of problem ever since the early Christians decided to celebrate Jesus' birth during the time of the pagan soltice revels.

My point here is that Christmas is poorly served by it's music. Fred Clark at Slacktivist has two excellent posts (here and here) on Christmas music that are worth a read. (You'll learn that there is a John Waters Christmas CD!) especially his point that a great deal of "Christmas music" is actually "winter music". Growing up in Southern California, I always felt vaguely ashamed and disappointed that we didn't have proper Christmas weather. In adolescence, I used to argue with my family - "Shorts on Christmas" "Yes, shorts on Christmas. It's 88 degrees!".

Somewhere along the way I realized this had nothing to do with Christmas. Neither my insistence on wearing shorts nor the fetishizing of snow can or should be connected to Jesus. But then again, most of the "sacred" hymns also seem to miss the point of how the Bible tells the story of our Lord's birth.

Again, the indispensable Fred Clark points us in the right direction. He wonders why more songs don't take off from the original Christmas Hymn - Mary's Song (Luke 1:46-55):
He has shown strength with his arm;
He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.
What would take for God's people to trade snow, Santa and sentimentality for the radical reversal of priorities heralded by Jesus birth?

I wish I knew. I wish I knew.

1 comment:

Captain GoBart said...

My guess is that most traditional Christmas music in the US has a northern European lineage, where snow is a constant in winter. Not being fluent in Spanish, I doubt the Latin American Christmas music deals much with snow, but remains relatively unknown outside the Hispanic community. (With the exception of the catchy but vapid Jose Feliciano version of "Feliz Navidad".)

Personally, I am not all that upset with the sentimentality of Christmas, as it is a family time. Having lost both parents in the last 18 months makes it especially so for me this Christmas. My objection, perhaps, is the over-emphasis on sentimentality.

Even a Scrooge would adore the baby Jesus. But the adult Jesus who says "Sell all you have, give to the poor, and follow me" is a tougher sell, don't you think?