The problem with Christmas carols

Continuing with my complaints about Christmas, I have a real problem with Christmas carols

You’re going to ask, “Why, Jane?”

In the past we would start hearing them at Thanksgiving. Some radio stations began a non-stop Christmas music program at that point; shopping malls would have started it sooner.

This year, it’s begun already. Two local stations have already switched to an all-Christmas format. And I, being curmudgeonly, have reprogrammed two of my station presets.

For the next seven weeks, everywere we go, we will hear about “round yon virgin mother and child” and “joy to the world–the Lord is come” and “the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head” and “I played my drum for him” etc. Then, either by noon on Christmas day or by midnight Christmas night the radio will inform you there’s no sugar tonight in your coffee and that rock stars can drive fifteen cars.

Do you see the problem here? Although the shopping season of Christmas begins in mid-November, calendar-wise, we should be in Advent.

While the radio is singing that Christ has already come, we should be preparing for his arrival at Christmas. But then, once Christmas arrives, American culture treats it as if it’s over.

All those joyous songs come during a time that should be prayerful and prepatory. For the hard-core Christians, it’s even penitential. Instead the orgy of joy begins like the crack of a starter pistol the morning after Halloween, and just when the rejoicing should start, it’s over.

Americans will have the “aftershock holidays” of exchanges and spending the gift cards and then we pack it all up to prepare for Valentine’s day.

It’s a symptom of American lives lived entirely in the future. And I’m not sure what I can do about it other than playing my iPod for the entire month of December and making sure my family hears Christmas songs during the Octave of Christmas.


  1. Christian

    Amen. As Christians, my wife and I have decided to ‘check out’ of the traditional holiday conventions this year. From Thanksgiving to Christmas the holidays (the way we commonly celebrate them) have little in common with the Gospel. We will still decorate, listen to holiday music, trim the tree, drink some egg nog – because we enjoy the holiday season. But for commercialized frenzy to stuff ourselves before the altar of the televised football game or the scamble to buy the perfect gift (while spending mucho bucks) – forget about it!

  2. Ivy

    The sad thing to me is that the songs are so clearly oblivious to the history behind everything.

    “Deck the halls with boughs of holly.” Why? Well, the early Christians did this to pretend to be honoring the god, Saturn, in the festival of Saturnalia. Saturnalia, btw, is why a perfectly good spring holiday got shifted to winter. You deck the halls with boughs of holly, if you are a Christian, because you’re afraid that the Roman authorities will think you disloyal to the king of the gods and will therefore persecute you and your family. Holly was sacred to Saturn, but it the word “holly” doesn’t ever appear in the bible.

    The smart thing to do is to celebrate the rise of Christianity over the Pagan faiths that would have slaughtered its adherents and throw away any holly found in or around the house. There is no need to hide anymore.

    Likewise the tree and the wreath. Let’s see, pointy tree, round wreath, fertility ritual. Yep, I’ve studied Freud. I can connect those. Pointy tree, round wreath, messiah. Sorry, but I can’t figure how those three relate.

  3. patricia Gonzalez

    Ivy, the tree — an evergreen — symbolizes the eternal nature of Christ. Likewise the wreath, which as a circle has no end — or it’s also the symbol of the crown of thorns — mentioned in the Passion narratives of the four Gospels. As for the holly, I was unaware that it’s sacred to any pagan God … Decking the halls is getting ready for a birthday party, which is what Christmas is — the celebration of Christ’s Birth (which is also in the Bible, see Luke’s Gospel, Matthew’s and Mark’s as well) — and the celebration in thanks to God for the most perfect Gift — the Gift of His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Oh, of course — He’s in the Bible too, isn’t He? Forgive the snark, but bigotry tends to annoy the dickens out of me. oops, Dickens isn’t in the Bible — but his story does provide me with a closing comment on your message: “Bah, humbug!” BTW, a very Merry Christmas to you.

  4. philangelus

    I’d just like to point out that although some of my content on the weblog is Christian, quite a few of my readers are here for the sarcasm instead. 🙂 The Jewish readers wouldn’t find Jesus explicitly mentioned in their Bibles, for example, and everyone is entitled to believe whatever they can find backing for about the origin of the Christmas tree. I don’t think it’s necessary to call it humbug if someone happens to be of a different faith.

    Ivy, I am specifically annoyed most of all with the “sacred” carols being whipped around during Advent because they presuppose the event has already taken place. The secular ones, such as the boughs of holly, fit right in with the secular shopping-holiday, and in a secular sense, the holiday revolves around the gifts. Therefore Advent would be the purchasing, wrapping and mailing of the gifts; Christmas itself would be the opening and enjoying of the gifts. Since Americans have so much stuff in general that they don’t really enjoy things for too long before moving on to the next item, it makes total sense to truncate the holiday by about 2AM on December 26th. And pagan symbols would fit in fine with that because the shopping-holiday is already disconnected from the religious-holiday. So would martian symbols or just about any other symbol that could be used in an advertisement. Does that make sense?

    Patricia, I agree about the ultimate gift being the gift of Jesus and God’s mercy–absolutely. But it’s so hard to find any evidence of that in the way Americans celebrate now.

    I would like to view them as two separate holidays that happen to occur on the same day. It’s not practical, but it’s how I survive the season.

  5. philangelus

    Okay, so Christmas is NOT layered over a pagan holiday. Check out here:

    Mark Shea tracks the historical and philosophical mistakes and assumptions that led to the popular erroneous belief that Christmas was put on the solstice in order to cover up sun worship. Historians apparently ignored the fact that at the time Christmas was first celebrated, solstice worship was not. And documents from the 400s stating, basically, that the feast was being instituted in order to overwrite Christmas.

    Which is, basically, the opposite of what’s accepted as the truth. Then the Christians co-opted the pagan symbols and absorbed them and transformed them.

    It’s an interesting article from his upcoming book. Go read it. 🙂

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