Last Sunday was our Christmas season service of Lessons & Carols, which is the single day when the congregation sings the most. I noticed, however, that not all were actively participating. Now, everyone is within their right to listen rather than sing. Many people have said to me over the years, “I can’t sing.” I politely disagree, telling them that if they have vocal cords and a mouth ~ they can sing. Besides, if the spirit is right, the wonderful feeling of a congregation singing together makes occasional sour notes and imperfect timing seem almost utterly insignificant.
That might have been the end of my thoughts about this, except that I saw the same phenomena on December 12th at the Choral & Brass Concert and Community Sing-Along at the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts. About 450 (I would guess) of the 750 people in attendance stayed after intermission for the Sing-Along. Many people left for the usual reasons: tired, have to work tomorrow, “I can’t sing” etc.
But, I suspect, there was another reason: People do not know the songs. When most people do not know how to read music, and they do not know the tune “by heart” ~ what you get is no singing. I do not expect Jews, Muslims and others outside of the Christian faith tradition to know traditional Christmas carols. But now I see that many people within the Christian faith tradition do not know them either.
A few years ago, I sent the words to the first verse of a couple of very familiar Christmas carols (“Away in a Manger”, “What Child is This?” and a couple others) to the homes of the children of the Sunday School. I asked that the parents or other caregivers sing the songs with their children in preparation for the child-friendly, early Christmas Eve service. When Christmas Eve came, they still did not know the songs. One reason, perhaps, is that the families were too busy. But another reason is that the parents and caregivers don’t know the songs either.
This is not necessarily good or bad. It simply is. In this age when many people no longer go to church on an even remotely regular basis, it appears to me that we are on the cusp of losing our traditional Christmas carols as well. My guess is that this year more people have heard “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” than “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” or even “Silent Night.”
Perhaps this is acceptable to you. It is certainly acceptable to many others. I too can be rather fatalistic about it and accept it as a sign-of-the-times. But another part of me desires (and will) strive to maintain the familiarity of these classic, traditional and beautiful, beautiful songs.
I truly hope to see “you and yours” at our Christmas Eve services: our 4pm child-friendly service and/or our 10:45 candlelit service of communion, choral anthems, and the congregation singing Silent Night to candlelight. There will be far less congregational singing than last week, and far more opportunity to simply listen. People have gathered in our magnificent and historic church on Christmas Eve where a sense of wonder, awe and mystery have been invoked and experienced for over 120 years and will, hopefully, be evoked and experienced for over 120 more.
The prediction is for rain on Christmas Eve. So what? As the non-religious but catchy, pretty and kind song says, “The weather outside is frightful, inside it’s so delightful…” See you, hopefully, in church on Christmas Eve.