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Bring Out the Christian Carols
Christmas carols are part of the historical substance of our cultural tapestry. Are we losing a very important tool for evangelism as that tradition unravels?

On the last day before Christmas holidays, at the elementary school where I teach, there is an annual carol sing. All of the students walk to a nearby Free Methodist Church, fill the sanctuary, and sing carols accompanied by an organ.

Most important of all, carols are a wonderful tool for evangelism.

In this day of politically correct behaviour, you may be astonished that a public school would do this. But what is equally astonishing to me is the way the children sing the carols. They belt out "cutesy" songs like Frosty the Snowman. They enjoy The Little Drummer Boy, partly because they have seen the television special, and they can remember the lyrics "rum pa pum pum." They recognize We Three Kings, because of a parody based on it. Away in the Manger is a well-known lullaby. But that's where the familiarity ends. They may know the first lines of Joy to the World; but they barely squeak out gems like O Little Town of Bethlehem.

Are we in danger of losing a great tradition? William Studwell, a Christmas carol expert from the University of Northern Illinois, says carols are "the oldest substantial continuing part of popular culture." Studwell argues that through carols "we can understand the old values, the different sensibilities." Eric Zorn, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, states: "In an age when most of what we hear and read is dumbed-down for the post-literate generation, and filled with simple, bite-size, slangy declarative sentences, the traditional carols still come around once a year to remind us, at least subliminally, of the beauty and variety of language. Each December dead words come back to life: tidings, hark, yon, don, dashing, to name a few … There is a magic apart from the spiritual in such lines as "0 Come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant," and "Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by."

Most important of all, carols are a wonderful tool for evangelism. How many churches have missed this opportunity by waiting until the Sunday before Christmas to start singing carols? And do they sing enough familiar carols—the pieces people wait for all year long? Christmas is a time to relive what is good in the past; part of that goodness is traditional carols. Will in-fighting about language cost us the classics, such as Good Christian Men, Rejoice?

On the other hand, we should introduce carols that are less familiar such as Sydney Carter's Every Star Shall Sing a Carol or Edward Caswall's See Amid the Winter's Snow. And don't pass over contemporary Christian songs. Check out the selection at your local Christian bookstore. There are exciting new versions of the classics.

Twila Paris's arrangement of In the Bleak Midwinter is hauntingly beautiful and Steve Green's rendition of Joy to the World would have Scrooge tapping his toes.

Almost two thousand years ago the birth of our Saviour was heralded by songs of angels. Let's once again use music to spread the good news about that miraculous birth.

Dawn Martens is a music teacher in Hamilton, Ontario.

Originally published in the Fellowship Magazine, December 1995.




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