This is a rare collaborative Comment of the Day, as texaggo4 and Penn combined for a fascinating discourse on the trend in Christmas holiday music and its significance in response to my December 23 post, prompted by listening to one too many renditions of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause” and “Santa Baby.” It’s a wonderful job by both participants here, reinforcing my conviction that the the debates following the posts are as valuable, or more so, than the posts themselves.
First up is tex, followed by Penn’s response. Here is their combined Comment of the Day on “Remembering Christmas Music”:
Christmas only exists because of Christ. That being said, pull the religion out of the holiday and ultimately the holiday disappears and all of its associated trappings.
Christmas music has several “genres”, not classified nor exclusive:
1) Theological or religious: directly communication the story or the theology of the Incarnation.
2) Modern references to the festivals associated with the Christ-Mass.
3) Modern references to the neo-pagan Christmas folklore…Santa Claus, Saint Nick, Father Christmas, etc.
4) Modern references to the American folklore… Frosty the Snowman, etc
5) Modern references to the post-materialist Capitalist associations with Christmas— Christmas party songs.
6) Modern references to the post-narcissist associations with Christmas…songs about sex….
We all saw this coming…it is predictable. take the religion out of a religious holiday and you can only assume that artistic messages (songs included) pertaining to the Holiday will have less and less to do with the ethical message of the holiday until eventually, watered down, it isn’t even worth playing the secular versions of that Holiday’s music.
What are the secularists complaining about? They asked for this.
Here is Penn’s reply:
“Christmas only exists because of Christ. That being said, pull the religion out of the holiday and ultimately the holiday disappears and all of its associated trappings.”
I don’t know if it’s going to make you feel any better, Tex, but have you really discounted those ‘associated trappings’ that are connected with the older religions celebrating the winter solstice — the standing-still of the sun, the start of the season marking the return of light and life to the world? (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) Even if you don’t qualify pagan holidays as religious at all, the observance (literally) persists primarily as a time of happy, merry, joyous and all that good stuff. It’s still there, partying on its way to greeting the New Year.
In the midst of the present-day (at its worst, call it) Saturnalia –, there is a holy day, a stop-and-pray day — or a couple of hours, depending on whether you dispense the presents before the evening services or midnight Mass or wait til the next morning to get back to the fun and games. A lot of ancient Romans thought the extremes of celebration over the 12 days were disrespectful to their gods (Seneca thought the mob was out of control) but it was all of a piece then: the religion and the occasion were one.
The connection between thankfulness for the birth of a savior and hooray-for-the-returning-sunlight may be unraveling naturally. Even with all the priestly efforts of the Middle Ages, the beliefs if not the practices related to the quickening of the season persisted. They have never been very compatible, musically or in any other way.
“Christmas” is the overarching title of the time, yes. And it does encompass all six of your categories, ancient, modern and post- (I leave you to your derogations; it’s your prerogative). But I think you are wrong about the secular encroaching on the religious as far as Christmas music is concerned.
I think there’s something else going on here.
A great deal of what we’re calling the religious music – the serious stuff – is aka “classical music” and that genre is ON THE WHOLE dying out, not just Christmas songs. More every year. This music is historically attended to in seated groups for extended periods; it is primarily orchestral, requiring large spaces (preferably concert halls or cathedrals); its appreciation and performance requires a certain amount of education; and its upkeep calls for expense that we, as a society, appear to be no longer willing (or able?) to provide. A better description of what I’m saying appears here: http://johnsonsrambler.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/dead-again/
I’m just suggesting that you take what you can get out of categories 1 and 2 (and selected bits of 3) and hold tight to it. There should be enough music — and religion — to fill your Christmastimes without having to suffer the rest. The new audio technology should help preserve it. Of course, that will require detaching in your mind the part that is already detached in reality, in other words: Christ from Christmas as a whole, unless you can submerge yourself in the Octave or Twelve Days of ritual and be satisfied with that.
Personally, my playlist will be a random mix of the music I have acquired — sung and played and taken to mind — since childhood, a combination of 1 and 2, … and 7…, the last being praise for the winter weather though it only snows these days (and shovels as well) in the memories that live in the melodies.