The worst Christmas song
‘Deck the halls with boughs of holly, fa-la-la-la-laa, la-la-la-laa.
’Tis the season to be jolly, fa-la-la-la-laa, la-la-la-laa.’
Well, generally, Christmas is the season to be jolly (or a season, I don’t want to limit jollity just to December, or indeed make Christmas jollity mandatory). However, the Christmas season seems to start earlier and earlier each year, and with it brings Christmas songs, which play incessantly in the shops. From August.
Some ‘church’ Christmas songs are amazing, with evocative tunes and profound lyrics. Others are the ecclesiastical equivalent of ‘Mistletoe and Wine’. So, we asked some people which church Christmas songs they’d like to see the back of, and here’s are the top three.
1 ‘Away in a manger’
The winner (if you can call it that) is ‘Away in a manger’. Respondents cited its twee tune and words (‘sweet’, ‘mild’, ‘little Lord Jesus’), and its tendency to be sung by out-of-tune children.
2 ‘Little donkey’
Not far behind is the masterpiece of fiction, ‘Little donkey’. None of the lyrics are biblical – Luke’s Gospel records no donkey, no bells, no star and no cattle shed – and some of the respondents report being scarred by hearing children play the song on recorders. And the tune is as dull as a wet Tuesday night in Bolton. And I should know, I’ve spent many a wet Tuesday night in Bolton.
3 ‘Once in royal David’s city’
A controversial choice. Opposition to this classic tended to focus around the end of the manipulative third verse, which tries to guilt-trip children into behaving themselves.
Other songs which got (dishonourable) mentions were ‘Silent night’, ‘In the bleak midwinter’, ‘Oh Christmas Tree’, the Calypso Carol and ‘I saw three ships’ when sung by Sting.
There are various reasons why these songs can grate: some of them to do with over-familiarity, some to do with being made to sing them as children, some with the terrible tune or lyrics. This is certainly true for me (I remember being forced to sing an awful song about the wise men which described them eating cabbage soup).
I wonder whether these songs and the traditions that have grown up around them obscure the power and awe of the Christmas story. I’m trying to be a bit more reasoned that my rant of last year, but the sentiment still stands. Are the children and families in our groups getting encountering that stark, awesome and sometimes shocking story of Jesus’ birth? Or are they merely seeing the cosy fluff?
Alex Taylor is the Children’s Ministry Trainer for the Diocese of London. His favourite Christmas song is the Swedish entry to the 1996 Eurovision Song Contest.
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