If you’re anything like me, you have sung many a song without having a clue as to its actual meaning, and sometimes, not even truly knowing the words.
Comedian Tim Hawkins has a whole routine where he mocks his own misunderstandings of popular songs from his youth. If you need a good laugh, search it out on YouTube.
Whether you are amused at what you thought the song said or appalled to learn what it actually does say, there are some songs that are worth knowing more about. And since Christmas is fast approaching, I thought it would be fun to take a look at two of our most loved Christmas carols, with the hope that you are not sick of them yet.
Many of the carols we are familiar with were written several hundred years ago. These songs have endured translations and performances by a wide variety of artists, and what makes them truly timeless is the veracity of the lyrics and the simplicity of their arrangement - and maybe the fact that we hear them at the same time every year, over and over.
“Silent Night”was first performed in 1818 at St. Nicholas parish church in the Austrian village of Oberndorf. The lyrics had been written in 1816 by Father Joseph Mohr.
Tradition has it that on the night of December 24, 1818, Franz Xaver Gruber composed a guitar accompaniment for the poem because the organ at St. Nicholas parish was out of commission.
In my 21st century mind, it was a welcome break from the organ!
The song has since been translated into several languages and during the Christmas truce of 1914, during World War I, it was sung simultaneously by French, German and English troops, each in their own language.
The unofficial cease fire of that night brought enemies together around common interests and a shared hope - something rare and welcomed during war.
Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God, Love's pure light
Radiant, beams from Thy Holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.
I used to think the lyrics were saying that Jesus “loves pure light,” which has far less meaning to me than what they actually say. Jesus Himself is the pure light of Love (the Bible says that God is love), and His birth marked the dawn of a redeeming grace that made the sacrifice for sins no longer our burden, but His. A holy night, indeed.
“Joy to the World” is another popular song heard at Christmas time, but interestingly, the author of this hymn did not write it to commemorate the birth of Jesus.
In 1719, English hymn writer Isaac Watts published a collection of his works based on the book of Psalms. “Joy to the World” was written from Psalm 98, as a proclamation of Jesus’ second coming and not of His birth.
Joy to the world! The Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.
This hymn has become the most widely published Christmas hymn in North America and has been recorded by everyone from the Supremes to Whitney Houston to Patty Loveless.
Since Christmas is a time for slowing down, let’s pay attention to those songs that are playing. At the grocery store or the school concert, on the radio or on Pandora – what are the words? What do they mean?
Sure, there will be some just plain silly, some obnoxious and annoying, but hopefully some of the songs you hear this Christmas will contribute to the sense of wonder and excitement of a baby born as The Greatest Gift.