ARE CHRISTMAS CAROLS RELIGIOUS OR SIMPLY A DIFFERENT FORM OF MUSIC?

I have to admit to an enormous fondness for the original Christmas Carols. I was in the P.S. 35 Glee Club — as was everyone else. They were non-discriminatory about vocal quality. If you could squawk out something slightly musical, you were in. If you couldn’t even do that, you could pretend to sing — silently. Even back then, there were people who should not sing, not even in an elementary school Glee Club.

I learned all of these songs in elementary school. That was before we weren’t allowed to celebrate Christmas or for that matter, any religious holidays. I understand that we have decreed that there shall be no religion (or hint of religion) in our public schools, but singing Christmas Carols was fun. The Glee Club was fun. Instead of social studies — the modern supposed equivalent of history and civics (it’s neither) — we got to go down to the Assembly Room where the piano lived and we sang. With gusto if not exactly on key.

Church on the Common in snow

I’m sure we were bad, but we had a great time. I have to wonder if singing Christmas Carols — or even an occasional hymn — is “religion.” I think it’s more like poetry and literature. I also think that if we actually did learn at least some of the basics of the world’s major religions, it might help kids understand each other better. If you actually know something, you are immunized against some of the introductory forms of religious bigotry. Knowledge — especially if it’s accurate — is somewhat like a vaccination against hatred.

So, does singing Christmas Carols (with the usual addition of one song about Chanukah shoved into the mix — diversity, even in 1957 existed, especially since probably half the teachers in my school were Jewish) constitute “teaching or promulgating religion” in the schools? A huge amount of our poetry, music, art, and literature has religious themes and at the very least, religious overtones. To lose all of that seems somehow wrong. You don’t need to include books that promote hate. We have “In God We Trust” stamped on our money and “under God” in our Pledge of Allegiance.

I learned to love hymns and any church with a really good choir is always worth a visit. My synagogue had a small choir and I don’t think any member of the choir was Jewish — and nobody cared. Not the choir, not the members of Temple Israel.

Maybe some things that skin along the edges of religion ARE harmless and often a pleasure to share? Mind you I come from a Jewish family where my mother was a firm, unyielding Atheist, so I don’t have an oar in this water. I just remember how much I liked singing Carols and how many of the early pieces of music I played on the piano were hymns. Moreover, I didn’t convert because I sang Christmas Carols in fourth grade. I don’t think I even thought of them as “religious.” They were music. It is something to think about.

I understand we don’t want to introduce mandatory prayer or even non-mandatory prayer in public schools and I would be strongly against anything like that. On the other hand, learning the major religions on earth might be a positive start in diluting hatred based on religion. I’ve studied religions for many years and never joined one. I respect religion when it isn’t “something else” pretending to be religion. We could even invite in speakers from various faiths to talk about their fundamental belief structures! Isn’t that a terrific idea? Knowledge is never a waste of time. Somewhere in your life, everything you’ve learned will be valuable to you in unforeseen ways.

Hey, if we add some universal understanding of religion, maybe we can inject Civics and History back into the curriculum? People would discover how our government works, what a balance of powers means, and why it’s not okay for a president to refuse to leave office when he isn’t re-elected. All this learning could do us a world of good!



Categories: Anecdote, Architecture, Blackstone Valley, Christmas, Gallery, Photography, Uxbridge

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29 replies

  1. “Carols?” “Religious? “Mmmm … not to me. But they are definitely Spiritual. I was raised Christian, but I’m not now.
    Christmas is what we make it of course, and I find many Carols are joyous and uplifting. A lot of it it pretty inspired music.

    But education then must always begin at home with good parenting. We can’t count on our school systems which have now become sanitized, sterilized, Socialized and ‘politically correct’.

    What once existed there will not return.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am not really religious but I love Christmas Carols, always have. I used to enjoy the open air “Carols by Candlelight” concerts televised and smaller local affairs. I enjoy them less now because they have become more about celebrities singing pop songs that I don’t know (the celebrities or the songs) and less about the good old Carols and audience participation. Listening to Carols is part of what Christmas is about for me. I don’t mind the popular “Jingle Bells”, “Deck the Halls” etc but I love to hear the ones that are hymns the most.
    I remember being given Religious Instruction, as we called it, as a child at school. I don’t think I would have minded learning about other faiths and what they believed as well. Before we condemn things we should know what they are about..

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Carols were the ONLY reason I sometimes went to church on Christmas — if there was a good choir. This area isn’t a great one for wonderful choirs, but Garry’s brother (Anton) is the conductor of one of the world’s great choirs, so we do get to see a real choir concert. Usually around this time of year he holds a concert in Boston or near enough for us to drive there. It’s a traveling choir and they go all over the world. Anton’s got a lot of recorded Christmas music. It’s St. Olaf’s Choir and he’s Anton Armstrong.

      Unfortunately THIS year, there was no concert. We got to watch a collection of concerts on closed circuit via computer which was better than nothing.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m all for it! It’s time Americans got serious about educating our children about the things that matter most. Those are the things that will strengthen our democracy and improve life for all Americans! Only educated voters can make that happen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve been angry about education and where it’s been going for most of my life, but no one seems to get it. Maybe the people who design these terrible education programs don’t have kids in public school or know absolutely nothing about really educating anyone. This one I think came from Bush II. It was supposed to solve problems, but instead, created a whole lot of new ones.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re right. No Child Left Behind came from Bush and education of our children has been steadily slipping downhill ever since. Many of those who can afford it are opting for private schooling and that turns the slipping into an all fall down slide for public education. It’s a horror story!

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        • It’s really bad. I watched my granddaughter go to school and not learn anything. I taught her to read, nobody taught her arithmetic. I taught her to tell time, I think Owen finally taught here basic addition and subtraction without the “new math” nonsense they’ve added. The teachers hate the program. Parents and students hate it. Why don’t they CHANGE it?

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  4. I used to enjoy Christmas carols when I was younger and I even used to go caroling with my friends. But I’ve grown tired of hearing Christmas music being played continuously in stores, malls, and restaurants since before Thanksgiving. I suppose the one good thing about the pandemic this year is that I no longer go to stores, malls, and restaurants so I am no longer bombarded by Christmas music.

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    • I have never spent any significant time in malls, even when I was younger. Most of the Christmas music I hear is from my own CDs or part of a concert. Garry’s brother (Anton Armstrong) is a conductor of one of the world’s top choirs and normally, just about this time of year we get to attend a Christmas show (it’s a traveling choir). This year, we had to watch it on television.

      The issue for me is that a lot of really GREAT music was written as hymns and concert music. Our entire system of western music evolved from Gregorian chants which grew out of middle-eastern cultures where Christianity began.

      When I was majoring in music in college, I used to walk around the house humming Catholic masses. It alarmed my mother, but that’s where our music comes from. It appeared in Gothic cathedrals during that strange time between the fall of the Roman empire and the middle ages. Just about when nations were beginning to appear.

      I don’t like much of the very modern Christmas music. It’s silly and not very musical. But I like the old stuff, much of which was written by composers like Bach and Mendelsohn and more. Hymns were just another form of music.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I love the old hymns too, but don’t forget that some pretty, wonderful composers wrote them – Hark! The Herald Angels Sing by Felix Mendelssohn; Joy to The World by G. Frederic Handel, Prepare Thyself Zion by J.S Bach. You really can’t top that.
    Leslie

    Liked by 1 person

  6. To me? Music has nothing whatever to do with religion. Of course ‘hymns’ do, but Christmas CAROLS? Nope. Even if the words praise God (whatever face ‘He” wears). Distinct difference between ‘carols’ and ‘hymns’ at Christmas. Music transcends such things IMHO. Just my thoughts on that. Of course some folks will mix the two (religion and Christmas music), but there’s always going to be such people. You expressed your ideas beautifully, by the way, I agree with Sue. “Knowledge is a vaccine against hatred” is a lovely idea.

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    • I think music should be exempted from the whole “religious” issue. So much of western music has religious roots. Until relatively recently — like the 1800s — pretty much ALL music was religious or was taken from hymns or services. How can you sing Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus if you can’t let the music in through the school’s doorway? We’ve given up so much education — art, music, civics, history — and for what?

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  7. I agree that we need to educate our population better in different religions, in government, and other areas that would make help everyone to be more informed and less unaccepting of others.

    I love the Christmas music I grew up with, which most often was about Christ’s birth, but I also have room for some of the classics like The Christmas Song or Silver Bells. You are right, though, that Christmas music and its singing can put aside religious lyrics and simply be food for the soul.

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    • Music is food for the soul, but our education has been stripped of almost everything except standardized tests which supposedly prove they are “learning.” They aren’t learning. I grew up in schools where we learned music and art and poetry. That’s ALL gone now.

      I loved singing. It added a bit of joy and fun to the work of school. All of it is gone from the curriculum and I don’t see it getting better anytime soon. Of all the tragedies we’ve created for ourselves, dumbing down education has been the one that will last the longest and do the most damage.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree. We are not teaching kids what they need to know. A friend and I were discussing a few weeks ago how schools should be teaching young children the basics of government and how it works and that should be a continuing part of the curriculum in later grades. It’s important, same as having music and art in school. One of my fondest memories was my middle school art teacher, who loved to play Beatles music while we were drawing. Standardized tests don’t fully give the kids the education and experiences they need in the real world.

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  8. Growing up Catholic and going to Catholic school for 12 years, all we ever sang at our Christmas program were ‘religious’ hymns.’ Only the kindergartners could sing ‘Have a Holly Jolly Christmas’ complete with bells, in church! Boy, did we older kid envy them. I think of Whoopi Goldberg jazzing up hymns in ‘Sister Act’–our nuns would have died!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I love the idea of knowledge as a vaccine against hatred. It is very difficult to hate what you can understand with an open heart.

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    • I can’t prove it, but I am convinced our failures to educate is ruining generations of kids. We’ve been saving money by not funding schools for a long, long time. We’re short of teachers and supplies while buildings crumble. Our kids are learning nothing except how to pass exams which are supposed to “prove” they are learning, but all they are learning is how to memorize information to pass tests.

      We are failing to give children the basic material they need to make good choices in their lives. It’s frightening how little they understand.

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      • I don’t know how closely our education systems are running these days, but the reliance on technology before learning practical and mental skills worries me, as does the lack of basic general knowledge.
        The ability to think for oneself does not seem to be being encouraged…

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        • No, it isn’t encouraged. The absence of art and music bothers me a lot too because our cultural history matters. We need art in all its forms. It is part of the context of human life and a few little art or music lessons in school can wake up a sleeping creative genius.

          Now, it’s all mechanical. The teachers don’t have TIME to teach anything else. Here, it’s all about standardized test scores which are supposed to prove that kids are learning. All it proves is that they are learning to take tests.

          Like

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