The BBC on 3rd December, 2018 carried an interesting article on its website. The title read, “Should we stop listening to these Christmas songs?” In it, a Radio station in Cleveland, Ohio had pulled the song “Baby It’s Cold Outside” from its playlist for the season due to its perceived sexual undertones. The article went on to mention other traditional Christmas songs whose lyrics some people find problematic.
So, is it time we reviewed the songs we played at Christmas? And on what basis? A disclaimer will be helpful at this point. This article will attempt to discuss what constitutes healthy Christmas carols; but it will do so from a purely Christian stand point. The basis for such a discussion will be solely God’s Word and the wisdom it provides for godly living this side of eternity. So, must we strike out some songs from our playlist this Christmas, and which ones?
The American radio station appealed to what has been termed the MeToo era for its decision to revise its Christmas playlist for the consumption of the general public. Should Christians be similarly selective in their choice of songs, and if so what should guide our choices?
What should constitute a Christmas carol?
Christmas is about a person. Regardless of the view you take on it, there can be no Christmas without Christ. When the BBC published its article, a listener on the BBC Radio Norfolk texted that Christmas without Christ is simply M a(nd) S. This listener meant his or her comment on a lighter note (M&S is a popular retail company in the UK); however, this is not far from the truth. When we write patriotic songs for our nations, we do so with the aim to engender the feelings of nationalism, often drawing on the sacrifices our forebearers have made to bring our nation to where it is. Similarly when it is time for the FIFA world cup, artists are called upon to compose songs that talk about the game and encourage sportsmanship. You probably get where this is going.
Songs that fit the bill as Christmas carols must centre on the person of Jesus Christ, whose birth is being commemorated at this time of the year. If we are to vet songs for their lyrical contents, then this must be based on their contents being glorifying to the Christ more than they being offensive to some sections of the public or not. Each person has a right to choose which songs to listen to. However, songs that are to be Christened Christmas songs must be centred on the birth and life of Jesus Christ. It is true that we commemorate the Lord’s birth at Christmas, however we must not dwell on His birth only. Many children were born in the year Christ was born, and many more before and after that. What makes Christ’s birth stand out is the fact that He was born to die to save the whole world. He is the only person in history whose birth and life altogether was foretold in more than 300 prophecies years before even one of them came to be. Each detail of His life, including where He was to born and how He would die was carefully purposed by God Himself to lead up to His death and the salvation of mankind. This is what makes His birth worth celebrating. And songs that are put forward as Christmas songs must defer to this core, non-negotiable historic truth about His person or else they don’t qualify to bear the name of Christmas carols.
Growing up, I read a story that gave me cause for pause. A couple who had waited years for a child were finally blessed with a baby boy. To celebrate they booked a restaurant and invited friends and family to dinner. Amid the celebrations, one of the invites guests asked to see the baby. The couple responded, “we thought that he would cry and distract the guests, so we left him at home with the nanny.” What a travesty to leave the celebrant out of His own birthday celebrations!
What must guide our choice of carols?
Any song that draws attention away from the Christ must not be given a place on our playlist. A typical example will include songs that make Santa out to be the god of Christmas. A traditional favourite is the song that says,
“You better watch out, you better not cry
Better not pout, I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is comin’ to town
He’s making a list and checking it twice
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice
Santa Claus is comin’ to town
He sees you when you’re sleepin’
He knows when you’re a wake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake
Oh! You better watch out, you better not cry
Better not pout, I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is comin’ to town”
Santa is made out in this song and many Christmas narratives as one who sees everything all children do, even when they’re sleeping. Children are made to believe all the presents they get at Christmas come from Santa. Few days ago, I chanced on a letter my two daughters had secretly written to Santa asking for a doll for Christmas. I used the opportunity to let them know that Mummy and Daddy will be the best people to buy them presents for Christmas, and it is to them they must direct their requests and subsequently their thanks, not Santa. In the same vein, God is the one who has so loved the world that He gave His Son to come in human form and die for our sins. And it is He who deserves to be worshipped with our songs at Christmas.
Christmas carols are just like any other songs Christians sing in worship of our God, they are sacrifices of worship and praise. So, whether writing, singing or listening to them, we must do so with one object in mind, to glorify God! Paul in two of His epistles that are considered the most spiritual of all His works had this to say about Christian singing:
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
” … addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. “
Two themes run in both passages. Christians are to, 1) do everything in the name of the Lord, and 2) give thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
To sum up, everything the Christian does must be aimed at bringing glory to God and the Christian must be able to give thanks to God for everything he or she does.
Wishing you a worshipful Christmas!