Sunday, November 29, 2020

Sing Christmas Advent Reflections - Introduction



For most people Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without its familiar music. Even Richard Dawkins is reputed to have a soft spot for Christmas carols. Some Christmas carols have become so familiar, though, that we have stopped noticing what they say. They become no more than background music, and the theological and spiritual ideas which they express are lost.

In our Advent series of thoughts, which starts on November 30th, we’ll take a carol a day and think about its words. There will be some questions and a Bible verse to ponder, and, if you can access the church blog, a Youtube clip of the carol to listen to. Check back here each day for a new carol and something to think about.

What is a Christmas Carol?

Carols were originally folk tunes designed for dancing. The word “carol” comes from French, Latin and Greek roots which all have to do with dancing. Carols weren’t necessarily associated with Christmas, and they weren’t written to be sung in church. They were the songs of the people, songs to be sung when they got together to celebrate informally. Christmas carols became popular first in the 15th Century, but were suppressed after the Reformation. The Puritans, who famously tried to ban Christmas celebrations, took a particularly dim view of them.  

In the 18th and 19th Centuries they began to enjoy new popularity. Catchy tunes and vivid imagery helped them to become the familiar element of Christmas that they now are. Some carols are simple retellings of the Christmas story, like The First Nowell, some are full of profound theology, like Hark, the Herald Angels Sing. Some are loud, even raucous, others gentle and meditative, but all have become popular because they somehow help us to enter into the story of the nativity and enjoy it anew.

The Carol Service in the form we know it now originated in 1880, when Edward Benson, then Bishop of Truro, decided to hold a service on Christmas Eve, allegedly to keep the men out of the pubs. Whether it met that aim is unknown!

Carol singing outdoors is a much older tradition, going back to the custom of “wassailing”, which is probably pre-Christian in origin. Bands of singers went from door to door at mid-winter asking for food and drink in return for a song. Gradually Christian carols were added to the secular wassail songs, but there has always been a sense in which this activity was semi-detached from the Church, and it remains popular among those who aren’t churchgoers.

However we sing our Christmas carols, they give us a chance to think about the story of the first Christmas and find its meaning in our own lives

·         What are your earliest memories of singing Christmas carols?

·         Are there any that you particularly love (or hate!)

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