A Caroling We Go...

By Mo Conlan

I have been caroling in my head. I mull over the ones I love – “Lo, How a Rose E're Blooming” -- and the ones that are torture – "Little Drummer Boy" and his ""pa rum pum pum pum." I’ve just heard it too often at the mall.

When I was a child, the girls at the Catholic school I attended would “surprise” the nuns by arriving at the convent one evening to sing carols. It was supposed to be a surprise, but Mother Superior always knew because the senior class president tipped her off and there would be cookies and cocoa for us.

We would be invited into the spacious marble vestibule of the old Victorian convent and raise our voices in song. “Oh, Holy Night” always gave me goose bumps. I was impressed when any of the girls around me could actually hit the high notes.

Those were tender lovely sounds echoing through the halls.

One of the loveliest carols is “Silent Night,” in its sweet tune and simple, reverent lyrics – “Silent night, holy night/All is calm, all is bright…” That is until the word “round” enters. “Round yon virgin mother and child.”

It seems problematic whether you read the word as an adjective or as a diminution of the word “around.” It is insulting as an adjective, and adds nothing to the scene if it means “around.”

Word nerd that I am, maybe that is why I like it sung better in German.

Puzzling. Why a song about a reindeer with an unusually red nose? Has he been partying? I could never find any charm in the song – and “Frosty the Snowman” just seemed dumb, even when I was a child. Then, there is “Jingle Bell Rock.” It is a waker-upper in a medley of carols that can become soporific.

“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” is jarring. A child who still believes in Santa Claus also seems to know way too much about implications of kissing.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is a lovely Christmas song, sung by Judy Garland and many other great voices. But this bothers me: Why a “little” Christmas. Why not a giant lollapalooza of a Christmas?

Inclusive language came too late for the carol: "Good Christian Men Rejoice." Probably the women were too busy cooking to rejoice, or maybe they were being bad. Still, since Mary plays such a key role in the Christmas story, I think women should have their due: "Good Christian Men and Women Rejoice."

In the Christmas Carol Songbook, there are spare, lovely ballads, and sprightly cheery tunes. “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” is bound to lift the mood even if you are stuck in gridlock traffic at the mall. This is clearly a song to be sung by a group of carolers. And they want some reciprocity: “Oh, bring us a figgy pudding; oh, bring us some figgy pudding and a cup of good cheer.”

I really can’t imagine liking figgy pudding, whatever it is. (I just read a recipe online and take it back; figgy pudding sounds delicious.) And I wouldn’t turn down a cup of good cheer.

One of my favorite carols, bound to get you singing and moving to the music with its rollicking tune is “Go Tell it on the Mountain.”

Another Christmas carol that is just plain fun – and or irritating depending on whether you know the words is “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Before you go to a Christmas party, make a cheat sheet on your fingers and thumbs. Party-ers will be impressed that you know all the verses.

Carols and Christmas songs have the power to move us, to return us to our childhoods, to weave past Christmases into the present.

I once sang in a choir performing songs from “Amahl and the Night Visitor.” A phrase struck me profoundly, sung by the Wise Men, “Oh, we have far to go…” Tears came to my eyes. I realized I, too, had far to go and I was already tired. I realized how far we humans have to go.

What do you think about carols?

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