Hark, The Secular Children Sing

I have a fairly complicated relationship with Christmas carols.  I was a fervent believer in the separation of church and state from a young age, as well as a fervent non-believer in Jesus, but I love to sing.  This caused few problems in grade school, in which most music was of the non-challenging but secular-ish type: Up on the Rooftop, Here Comes Santa Claus and all that lot.

As I got older, more religious music came into the “Winter” concerts, as they were called, and the teachers always tried to balance the songs out: a few explicitly Christian, a few holiday/secular, and one leftover slot for a Hanukkah tune. They didn't have a very large library of Hanukkah songs; I've probably sung “Hevenu Shalom Aleikhem” more than some actual Jewish kids.

I grumbled privately about singing religious songs in school, but for the most part those songs have really lovely music, so I didn't grumble much.

For a while I was obsessed with this version of Do You Hear What I Hear that we sang in chorus. I usually hate listening to that song now because I've never found a recorded version with a harmony I like as much.

In high school I learned to sing Handel's Hallelujah Chorus, possibly the most literally religious song I did for a public school concert. But I loved it, because that song is really challenging to sing. I still know the soprano line.

Also in high school I tried writing secular or pagan lyrics to holiday tunes, and memorized some versions I found in books or online. Eventually these started to sound silly and forced to me, though, and I decided I could enjoy the songs without caring about the basis. Most of them were written so long ago that it isn't as if the composers had much choice in the subject matter.

There are still a few songs that I can't come around on. I detest nearly every version of Silent Night, and every version of Oh Holy Night. I find Away in a Manger utterly dull.

But I like the refrain of The Holly and the Ivy enough that it gets a pass. I still have a soft spot for good versions of Do You Hear What I Hear and We Three Kings, and I just plain like some songs like The Boars Head Carol, Carol of the Bells, I Saw Three Ships, God Rest You Merry Gentlemen, even Ding Dong Merrily On High...

I guess in the end, I'm a singer, and a sucker for anything with a good soaring refrain.