In no particular order, and for no particular reason:

  1. The Christmas season serves up arguably the most profound, well-produced music you’ll hear all year in public space; it also serves up a glutton’s portion of the most mind-numbing, sentimental drivel you’ll encounter all year. For this reason, I find myself avoiding streaming services during the holidays and sticking to albums I own. So much of the stuff played in stores/malls is empty secularism, or rank sentimentalism (fishing hard for emotional euphoria), and I think its long-term effect is less like jollity and more like despair. And I’m not discounting the holiday cheer to be had from Vince Guaraldi or Nat King Cole (may it never be!), only observing that with time my love for the Gospel hope and biblical truth expressed in the traditional Christmas hymns has matured and grown.
  2. Just who in the Christmas story is the most mild? Depending on the song, it could be Jesus, Mary, or Joseph; it appears to depend on who is poetically closest when the word “child” is invariably summoned to end a line. In fact, I almost wonder if there are images or nuances that have worked their way into the vernacular theology of the Church because of those privileged English words that happen to rhyme with key words of our Faith. I don’t have any other examples in mind (thankfully), but I find it an interesting proposition.
  3. In general, Christmas hymns and carols sound great sung a capella. While caroling in some of our town’s nursing homes last week, I opted to leave the guitar in the car this year. Never mind that Christmas carols just aren’t harmonized for easy strumming, and that I kick myself every year for attempting it (I’m no guitar wonder). But I thought our singing this year sounded better without accompaniment. The tunes just sing heartily all by themselves.

    Now, I suppose one could argue that this has more to do with familiarity than some sort of objective “tunefulness” of the tunes, and indeed it would be overstating the case to suggest that every tune in a church’s repertoire must fly a capella in order to be of quality.  I’m also keenly aware that accompaniments can easily, instead of encouraging expression, actually restrict it because of poor skills on the instrument (my guitar playing?!) or a thoughtless choice of tempo. But I also wonder if tunes that depend on harmony for their interest really endure past a generation or two. What songs that are popular today will actually last past a few years, or even a few decades? Might the a capella test prove to be a valid pointer (among others) of long-term success or failure? Do we serve our church best when we build its hymn repertoire around tunes that thrive regardless of setting (auditorium vs. living room) or accompaniment (skilled pianist / worship team vs. a capella)?