A few years ago, we began the tradition of singing Christmas carols. It all started when Feisty and Sparky had roles in our parish’s Christmas pageant. Someone gave 6-year-old Sparky the role of Joseph, which was a terrible idea. During the rehearsals, our impish, irrepressible Sparky kept pretending to scold Baby Jesus. I was
terrified concerned that Sparky would scold Baby Jesus during the actual pageant, but he played the role perfectly, with a reverence and seriousness we never knew he was capable of. Phew! Anyways, the kids had to learn the songs, so we practiced the carols at home. And we all loved it.
Since then, we sing traditional Christmas carols together during Advent and through the Christmas season. I know this is liturgically incorrect. In church we’re not supposed to sing Christmas songs until Christmas since Advent is a time of atonement, waiting, and preparing. But I think (hope) that domestic churches (a.k.a. our homes) get a little more wiggle room. If our children are being bombarded with secular holiday tunes all during Advent, we need to counteract that by filling their minds with beautiful hymns that proclaim the true story and meaning of Christmas.
In The Beauty of Christmas, a wonderful compilation of Christmas carols, scripture, and art, my friend Colette explains why singing Christmas carols is so important:
The songs share a timeless truth…. the words speak of wondrous events and saving mysteries. Music, which uses both sides of the brain, helps us to carry these truths in our hearts and commit them to memory.
Indeed, music has the power to evoke emotions and memories. Thus, Christmas carols can make the Christmas story come alive. For example: Away in a Manger expresses the tenderness we feel towards the Infant Jesus. What Child is This? reflects on His utter humility in coming to us in the poverty of a stable. Angels we Have Heard on High and Joy to the World declare the joy and glory of the long-awaited coming of Christ. O Holy Night shows us the thrill and reverence with which we should approach the manger. Bereft of these moving hymns, the Advent and Christmas seasons lose much of their ability to draw us deeper into the glory and mystery of the Word Incarnate.
Music also has the power to engrain in our hearts and minds the teachings of the church and the mysteries of our faith. When I taught music history at girl’s Catholic highschool, I would sometimes survey the students about their Mass attendance. I would ask who went to Mass on Sunday. About 75% of the students would raise their hands. Next I would ask who remembered the either the gospel or homily. The students would think for a bit, and only a few would raise their hands. Finally, I would ask who remembered one of the songs they had sung at Mass, and significantly more students would raise their hands. I would point out to the students the effectiveness of music in helping us to pray, worship, and remember the tenets of our faith.
Here’s one more reason why singing Christmas carols with our children is so important: it is a way of preserving Christian culture and the sacredness of the season in a world that is becoming increasingly secular. When I was a graduate student, I had to defend a 7-year old boy’s right to play Away in the Manger at a holiday piano recital. Almost 20 years later, the battle over Christmas continues. For example, at Robious Middle School in VA, “anything of direct sacred nature” has been banned at school concerts. Students can sing about snowmen and elves, but not about the true meaning of Christmas. Once again, Jesus is being left out in the cold. The centuries-old tradition of singing beautiful sacred music during Christmas is being eradicated. Our children need to carry on the torch of faith in a secular and materialistic society.Embed from Getty Images
You don’t need to be a professional or amateur musician to sing Christmas carols with your kids. Just pick a time of day that works for everyone and have sheet music or lyrics for each child. You can print out free music here, and if you don’t play a musical instrument, your family can sing along to recorded music. Here are 26 Traditional Carols sung by professional choirs on YouTube. The International Children’s Choir and The Vienna Boys Choir are wonderful children’s choirs your kids can listen to and sing along with.
If you happen to play the piano or have a child who is advanced, my favorite sing-along Christmas book is The Reader’s Digest Merry Christmas SongBook.
Finally, remember that you don’t have to sound fantastic. If you could only hear us…. Feisty banging on the drums, All-star strumming away at the guitar, Princess trying to find what words to sing, Sparky half singing-half shouting, and a wheezy, asthmatic mom trying to play the piano with a squiggly baby on her lap. We’re hardly the Von Trapp family. But the kids love it. We’re making memories. And little by little, the meaning and beauty of Christmas is sinking into their hearts and minds.Embed from Getty Images