Last week, while driving to errands and appointments, the holiday spirit came upon me and I felt the urge to belt out Christmas carols. I’ve always joked that I have a memory like a sieve, but the words came effortlessly, without reaching to remember the lyrics from choir recitals and Christmas plays long passed. The easy flow of remembered music and the uplifting feeling that accompanies our sacred and secular holiday tunes was interrupted with an alarming thought: ‘throughout the country, Christmas is being banned by government and political correctness.’
Christmas plays and pageants are now replaced with holiday celebrations or nothing at all. The Christmas school break is now the Winter break. There is no denying that Christmas is being excised from our schools and city celebrations… and when our Christmas plays are gone, who will remember our carols?
Few neighborhoods still have strolling carolers – it seems the era for evening Yuletide canticles has, in rare exceptions, ceased.
Certainly, we can still enjoy holiday music on our iPods or while watching the winter season fireplace with its canned holiday carols… but it doesn’t feel like “Christmas.”
I admit – I was born before this politically-correct era in America where ‘Christmas’ offenses are policed and litigated.
My school day memories touch back to our daily music classes in grade school. Every November, we turned the pages in our songbooks to holiday music: Silent Night, Jingle Bells, Lil Drummer Boy, Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer, Away in a Manger and Here Comes Santa Claus were just a few of the titles on our song list which was sung before proud parents during our annual school Christmas plays and choir recitals.
In high school, choir was an elective course and I signed up every year, starting with Freshman, Junior and Senior Choirs and the Girls Ensemble.
Our high school song charts included more complicated and sophisticated Noels such as the most operatic of the carols, O Holy Night/Cantique de Noel with its supplication (“Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices! …) and full octave leap to a soaring high note (my favorite carol – although I have never been able to, gracefully, reach that high note), as well as a buoyant Angels We Have Heard on High, the beckoning O Come All Ye Faithful, an ebullient Hark, the Herald Angels Sing and a triumphant, Joy to the World, as well as secular Christmas songs: Silver Bells, The Christmas Song (Chestnuts roasting on an open fire … ), O Christmas Tree, Let it Snow, Winter Wonderland and many more. Our high school Christmas choral recitals always concluded with Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” in which the audience was invited to stand and join us.
Throughout my grade and high school years, I anticipated the holiday season and singing the familiar carols with friends at school and at church.
I didn’t have time in college to take music classes, but I remember flying home after Fall semester finals to find the house filled with the decorated “Redwood” my mother installed in the living room (actually, it was either a very large Douglas or Noble Fir – and it always required some alterations to fit through the door and still have room at the top for the star) and the scent of pine. In evenings, while others were finally abed, I sat in the living room and quietly sang carols by the gentle glow of the Christmas tree lights. I treasure those memories.
Honestly, I have never attended a school’s “Winter play” as an adult so I don’t know if students learn the lyrics of the season. This is speculation, but I think younger generations are likely more familiar with “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” and other parodies, than The First Noel or It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.
If our PC-era winter holiday extravaganzas exclude our religious and secular Christmas music, who will teach those lyrics and bestow upon another generation the bliss that comes from singing praises, expressing reverent joy or delighting in the bouncy fun of Jingle Bells?
Perhaps we are beyond reviving school Christmas plays and choir recitals right now, so what can we do to ensure the younger generations are given the inspiring gifts of Christmas music? Start at home – songbooks are available and can be downloaded from the Internet. Get involved with your church choir or revive the caroling tradition with family and friends.
I’m so grateful that I was raised in a time in which we anticipated, prepared for and celebrated our Christmas traditions with music. I’m thankful that I remember those lyrics and that the words and music still come so easily to mind. In my late 20s, I was diagnosed with a rare form of hearing-loss. I’m not deaf, but I could not join a choir today or learn the carols that are so dear to me now. Music can be taken away from us – one way or another. Don’t let this politically-correct world deny you or your family the joyful expression of the season through music.
Merry Christmas – and sing!