Carolling is not just for Christmas. These are songs to be sung year round. CNS photo/Dan Russo

May carolling carry us through the year

  • December 14, 2023

It’s Advent — that special time of year when sleighbells ring, chestnuts roast and Christians of different persuasions argue about when to begin celebrating Christmas. Many Catholics adhere to the idea that one ought not decorate or sing Christmas carols before the Christmas liturgical season begins on Dec. 24. There’s only one problem with this: it presumes we ever stopped.

In this house, we didn’t. Carols took hold in my pre-schooler’s heart. We sang all five verses of “We Three Kings” well into May. There’s something comical about a four-year-old singing about the bitter perfume of myrrh “breathing a life of gathering gloom.” (This is not even to mention the “sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying” portion of the lyrics.) “Away in a Manger” became a bedtime lullaby. The soprano strains of a small voice singing “silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright,” were heard in our hallways with the air conditioning, not angels, on high.

Reflecting on the words of these carols became a form of Lectio Divina. And may I commend this course of action to each one of you? These are some of the most majestic and beautiful hymns of praise and adoration that exist across cultures and time. Exultation and triumph interspersed with peace and hope. Quiet waiting, yes, as well as contagious joy. It’s all too easy to sing “Joy to the World” without once reflecting on the words. Christians ought not miss the opportunity.

Take this new-to-me carol from the Polish tradition, “Infant holy infant lowly.” It is a simple tune filled with simple rhymes in English (all typically unpronounceable in Polish; can I buy a vowel?) but culminating in Christ the babe is Lord of all. Lord of all. Lord of my life. Lord of our cities. Lord over addicts and alcoholics, Lord over broken relationships and hurting families. Lord of our terrible political cycles lurching from catastrophe to disaster. Lord over space and time, from Auschwitz to Oct. 7.

In the steady stream of superficial political press releases ever dumbing down religions of the world — when we get the perfunctory one about Christmas, Christians might remind our leaders, as ourselves, that a baby without status or power became King. “Saw the glory, heard the story, tidings of a Gospel true. Free from sorrow, Praises voicing, Greet the morrow, Christ the Babe was born for you!”

When a friend went to a mall recently and asked if they had any nativities for purchase, he was met with a blank stare. He attempted to clarify, grasping for a concept that would meet with recognition. Mary? Joseph? A baby? Okay, moving on then… Manger? Star? Nothing. Yet that same mall will blast religious music through megaphones and many will feel some sense of comfort from the familiarity.

“All I want for Christmas is you” may be a catchy song, but ultimately, disappointing. All I want for Christmas is the latest consumer item, which is all too often precisely how we consider personal relationships, but what do we do when we get it? Move on to the next one? This conundrum is quite obviously not present in hymns focused on praising Someone other than ourselves.

Last year in the mall with my then three-year-old, we passed through the halls showcasing societal decay. Hyper-sexualized images of young teenage girls here, a bearded man in flamboyant makeup there. We passed the store that features highly provocative and sexualized images of adult women. Then, over the loudspeaker: “O Come All Ye Faithful.” “For He alone is worthy... For He alone is worthy... For He alone is worthy, Christ, the Lord.” Even in the mall — especially in the mall — Christ is worthy and He is Lord. The music sings of this truth, and many of us, whether believers or not, will sing along.

Christmas carols act as a bridge to a secular public who do not worship Jesus yet still love to sing. Therefore, let us hear these splendid songs wherever and whenever we can — during Advent, during Christmas, or, as was my case, during summer vacation. Some starkly secular environments still feature them. This could change of course, and we ought to be prepared for singing Christmas carols being deemed a subversive act. Until then, we can avoid the controversy over when to start singing Christmas carols by singing them always, and allowing the lyrics to imprint on our hearts.

A happy Advent, a Merry Christmas and a full calendar year in which we rejoice over Christ’s birth, to all.

(Andrea Mrozek is Senior Fellow at Cardus Family).

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