I love Christmas carols. Of course, I love the standards that we sing in church during the Christmas season, but I also love all the ones other people think are cheesy or mock for being about snow and trees and never actually mention Jesus.1 For me, the golden age of Christmas carols is between about 1930 and 1970 and includes songs sung by Johnny Mathis, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney and many more. I remember my parents playing their records when I was a kid as we put up the tree or gathered on Christmas Eve. I even enjoy newer carols and songs that are disdained, like Wham’s “Last Christmas” and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas.” To me, they’re all in the spirit of the season.
Jeff Jacoby is the conservative op-ed columnist for the Boston Globe and he has a weekly newsletter he sends out. In this week’s email, he talked about being Jewish at Christmastime and noted that many of the most popular Christmas songs of the past 100 years were in fact written by Jews. But he notes that this isn’t as strange as it may seem at first.
Jacoby recalls that for most of the last couple of millennia in Europe, being a Jew at Christmastime was not a time for joy, but for fear. It is to our great shame as Christians that some–even many–used Christmas as a perverse reason to persecute Jews. Jacoby notes that Romania has a traditional Christmas song that extols attacking Jews as a way to celebrate the birth of Christ.
But it was when Jews emigrated to the United States that this changed for them. In the US they found that –by and large (albeit not universally)–Jews were not persecuted by Christians, especially in the 20th century. At least Christmas wasn’t the same occasion for persecution it had been back in Europe. In fact, the joyous Christmas season that inspired good will toward their fellow man turned Christmas into a time of joy for Jews as well.
And so when Jewish songwriters like Irving Berlin and Mel Torme were writing their Christmas songs, they were tapping into the very essence of the joy and love at the heart of the season. And so even if Christmas songs invoke sleigh bells and snow and shopping for gifts without specifically mentioning the Christ Child in His manger, they still contain the seed of the Gospel in them. A season of love and joy and good will toward others in the midst of the dark and cold Earth (at least in the northern hemisphere) is the beginning of evangelization and a witness to the world.
So embrace all the Christmas music and share it widely. Bring joy into the world as Joy comes into the world on Christmas. Even if it’s Wham singing about Last Christmas.
- But not Christmas Shoes. Christmas Shoes is just horrible. ↩
- christmascarols: Dreamstime | Copyright by owner. Used with permission.