From Thanksgiving to Christmas Day, the sounds of Christmas music are everywhere: stores, TV specials, many radio stations. Every year, the biggest oldies station in Dallas becomes “The Christmas Station,” this year starting in mid-November.
There are two ways to respond to Christmas music, I think. One way is to let it stream unfiltered into our hearts and minds as the background noise of our December lives. The other is to be intentional about categorizing what we hear, letting it all remind us of “the reason for the season.”
I suggest that Christmas music falls into four categories, and we can mentally tag each song with the appropriate category as we listen:
Songs About Weather
What do sleigh rides have to do with Jesus’ birthday? Nothing. But a number of songs we only hear in December are focused on northern-hemisphere weather. Key words are snow, cold, frosty, winter, and jingle bells (because they belong on sleighs, apparently).
Songs About Fantasy
All songs about Santa Claus, the Grinch, elves, and Frosty the Snowman belong in this category. Make-believe characters have nothing to do with the birth of the Savior, but we only hear them at Christmas.
Songs About “Xmas Feelings”
There are lots of songs invoking warm and fuzzy feelings about Christmas, and being together, and good cheer. It’s “the hap-happiest season of all,” right? Other songs highlight what the singer wants for Christmas, ranging from a kid’s two front teeth to the not-TOO-greedy “Santa Baby” song: a fur coat, a car, a yacht and a ring. Be sure to hang some mistletoe so you can score a kiss from somebody. (Except that given the current movement to expose sexual harassment and crimes, that might not be the best move right now.) I call these “Xmas Feelings” because although the songs are played at Christmastime, none of them have anything to do with the reason we celebrate Christmas in the first place. It’s a totally secular feel-good holiday, so we can just X out the Christ of Christmas.
Songs About the Birth of Christ
Aaaah . . . now we’re talking! Most songs about Jesus’ birth are either Christmas carols, long venerated for the very good reason that they proclaim truth. We call them carols, but they’re really hymns that celebrate the Incarnation, God leaving heaven to become man. Most carols show deep insight into the glorious mystery of the Incarnation. “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” proclaims, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity.” My favorite Christmas carol, “Joy to the World,” exhorts us—and the whole world—to embrace the Savior: “Let earth receive her King, Let every heart prepare Him room, And heaven and nature sing. . .”
In addition to Christmas carols, some more modern songs teach biblical doctrine. “Mary Did You Know,” written by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene in 1991, elevates Jesus in a most worshipful way. “Mary did you know . . . when you kiss your little Baby you kiss the face of God? . . . This sleeping Child you’re holding is the Great I AM?” Still gives me goosebumps. Every time I hear it.
The continual presence of Christmas music is a good opportunity to practice discernment with every song by asking, “Which category does this song go in?” Using biblical wisdom to think intentionally is one way we can love God with our minds, as Jesus said is part of the greatest commandment (Luke 10:27). But then we can go on to a second step, which is to connect the dots between the songs and the Lord behind “the reason for the season.”
When we hear a song about weather: “Lord, I praise You for being the creator of winter—and spring, summer and fall.”
When we hear a song about fantasy characters: “Lord, I praise You for being real and true, and not make-believe like Santa or Frosty.”
When we hear a song about Xmas feelings: “Lord, the longings of the heart for love and for home and for belonging are all met in You. Thank You for drawing me into relationship with You as the giver of these good things.”
When we hear a song about Jesus’ birth: “Lord, Happy Birthday! Thank You for leaving heaven and coming to earth to reconcile us with the Father. Thank You for this wonderful song that reminds us that You are Lord.”
Bonus points for identifying “category error” songs that mix fantasy and truth. Examples: “Here Comes Santa Claus” mixes the made-up Santa and the True God:
“Peace on earth will come to all, if we just follow the light
So let’s give thanks to the Lord above ’cause Santa Claus comes tonight.”
Then there’s “Up on the Rooftop”:
Up on the rooftop
Click, click, click
Down through the chimney with
Good Saint Nick
Santa is not Saint Nicholas, a 4th-century Christ-follower in modern-day Turkey. St. Nicholas didn’t come down chimneys with toys for good little girls and boys! Santa is fantasy; “St. Nick” is real.
Happy singing . . . and thinking!