Christmas music is strangely divisive. It would seem something as wholesome as Christmas music is something that would feel everyone with good cheer, but that is not always the case. It seems most people have a lot of strong feelings about Christmas music. For instance, there are some people who firmly believe that Christmas music should start on November 1st, while other people hold a very strong conviction that they do not want to hear “Jingle Bells” until after Thanksgiving. For a lot of retail workers, who often endure two straight months, these songs can cause unpleasant flashbacks to times they had to deal with less than pleasant customers.
In the church world Christmas music also elicits a lot of strong feelings. I am going to assume most of you do not hang out in the corners of the Internet where people fiercely debate the finer point of liturgy and worship planning, so I will let you know there is a lot of debate about Christmas carols. When it comes to Christmas music the debate is about what is the right time to sing the traditional Christmas carols. The most vocal side is the traditionally “right” side, and that is not until Christmas Eve. The argument is that the season before Christmas is Advent, and Advent is meant to be a time of spiritual preparation before we celebrate the Incarnation and the coming of Christ. The argument further states that during Advent, as part of this preparation, we should be singing Advent hymns instead of Christmas Carols.
Over the years my position has moved from leaning one direction in this debate, to fully embracing the opposite side. At this point, when Advent begins, I am all about breaking out the Christmas carols for a couple of reasons. The first reason is practical. We want to sing Christmas carols! If we saved all of the songs for Christmas eve and the Sunday before Epiphany there would not be enough time to sing them all. I am of the opinion that a passionate and engaged worship experience than a liturgically appropriate one. The reality is most congregations (and let’s be honest, this minister) would rather sing “Joy to the World” loudly than to bumble through the more advent appropriate “Ye Who Claim the Faith of Jesus” (197 in the Hymnal, though you have probably never sung it either).
The second reason, is that I think singing Christmas carols a little earlier than Christmas eve can actually help us with Advent. Again, Advent is meant to be a season of preparation, but Christmas is no longer a one day religious holiday. Christmas has also become an extended secular season. By December, there is no mistake that we are in the Christmas season, and much of that season is secular, having little to do with Christ. I believe that singing the familiar and loved Christmas songs each week during this season helps grounds in what we are experiencing the rest of the week. I think that singing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” in the middle of December centers us and reminds us that all that we are experiencing is not about snowmen or reindeer. It reminds us that “love came down at Christmas”. As the Christmas season becomes more about having happy holidays, I think that is a reminder we constantly need.