Even when I was a kid, it was never the typical poppy, fun, kidlike Christmas songs that Iliked the most. It wasn’t Frosty the Snowman, or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, or Santa Claus is Coming to Town, or — heaven forbid — Jingle Bells.
No, my favourite Christmas carol all through childhood was actually Silent Night.
Silent Night, to me, was always just such a beautiful piece of music. It wasn’t obnoxious, it was powerful, and even as a kid I appreciated that.
Looking at the lyrics now, they’re of course very religious — “Christ our saviour is born” — but they’re not preachy. In fact, I feel like most carols, even those that are purely religious hymns, aren’t really preachy. They’re not asking us to beleive in their saviour, they’re just celebrating him in their way, and spreading the message of hope and promise that comes with his mythological birth. This isn’t Paul. It’s not Leviticus. It certainly isn’t Revelation.
It’s just peace and hope: “heavenly hosts sing Allejuia.” He may be called “son of god”, but it’s only important in that he’s “love’s pure light.”
The lyrics of Silent Night are poetry, through and through. And while I didn’t fully understand them as a child (I remember equating “shepherds quake” for a long time with a spell called “quake” in the Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past) they still spoke to me of that peace, that calm, that hope, that love.
They were three verses with a pattern to them, and a build of meaning — from “sleep in heavenly peace” to “our savious is born” to “Jesus, Lord at thy birth.” They were narratively constructed, and well structured. I remember that I memorized all three verses when I was still quite young. I have them memorized still.
I hymn like Silent Night is very repetitive, usually, and so there’s a danger in covering it — to keep it interesting, and also maintain the beauty and glory of the piece. I don’t think just any artist could pull it off. But I have found three that can, and little wonder, when they’re the likes of Annie Lennox, Sarah McLachlan, and the Canadian Tenors.
Every day in December, I’m posting one of my favourite Christmas songs, along with thoughts. Check out the first one here, with my thoughts on the Christmas season.