• on December 9, 2017

Christmas Carols as Protest Anthems – Advent Day 9

Have you ever listened to Christmas music? I mean really listened to it. As in, stop everything you’re doing. Open both ears. Fully engage your mind in a lyrical critique from a cultural, philosophical, theoretical, theological vantage point, utilizing your best reasoning skills.

Most of it is ok. But there are a few that just make me say, ‘Really?’

Take for example Let It Snow. This isn’t even a Christmas or Holiday song. It mentions nothing about the holidays. It’s about finding love in the winter. Therefore, could justifiably better suited for Valentines Day, at least in colder climates.

Jingle Bells isn’t even a Christmas song. It was actually written for Thanksgiving. We could go on and on with a list of songs non-Christmas Christmas songs, like Sleigh Ride, Winter Wonderland, Deck the Hall, etc. Great winter songs. But technically not Christmas songs.

And honestly! What is up with Baby It’s Cold Outside. How is this song ok with people? No, really. Dude, get the hint! She wants to leave. She wants to be away from you. Have any of you actually listened to that song? It’s a young girl who still lives with mom and dad and siblings, being forced by an older man to stay with him all night. She insists that it’s going to make people talk about her character and intentions, of which he has no concern. Then she begins to wonder if he has spiked her drink, while he entices her with cigarettes. And we sing it as a Christmas song?!?

Um. Isn’t this the very thing that a bunch egotistical, overentitled men are getting in trouble for right now? This song is the epitome of the systemic issues underlying much of the broken male/female relationship dynamic in the world. And it probably sheds light on the struggles of women in 1940’s America. (Little known fact—the characters in the song were written to be a wolf (man) and a mouse (woman). Yeah, that’s fair!

Oh well. Who’s feeling festive? Let’s crank the tunes, make some hot chocolate, bring out the decorations and string lights on the tree with the kids.

Advent can be celebrated only by those whose souls give them no peace, who know that they are poor and incomplete, and who sense something of the greatness that is supposed to come.

(God Is In The Manger, Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

And then there are the Christmas hymns and carols that are more Christian in nature. Have you ever listened carefully to these? Some of them are protests against excess, power, and privilege. In this way, they mirror Mary’s Magnificat recorded in Luke 1.

He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

O Holy Night, perhaps one of the most well-known and beloved Christmas hymns of all time was written by a French atheist. The song was translated into English and introduced in America shortly after the Civil War. It included the following lines about the joy and righteousness of emancipation:

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name, all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.

It Came Upon The Midnight Clear (correct title and one of my favorites), written by a Unitarian minister in 1849, is a lament that protests against man’s insistent need to solve everything with war and violence.

And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

And warring humankind hears not
The tidings which they bring
O hush the noise and cease your strife
And you, beneath life’s crushing load

I think we often sing these songs (and many of our ‘Christian’ songs) quite thoughtlessly. These are good songs that point to the world’s need for Christ. The babe in the manger clashes with everything this world holds dear and strives towards.

This Advent season, may we raise our voices in protest of this world as we praise the Christ who brings peace on the earth, goodwill to men, From heaven’s all-gracious King. May we wholeheartedly join in these Christmas Carols as Protest Anthems as we wait for Christ to return.

J. Mauger

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