Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ Through Christmas Carols
It has become one of the most popular genres of music. Major artists from a diversity of backgrounds record special albums of these songs and some radio stations and shopping malls play this music exclusively during the present season. Meanwhile, every day people everywhere find themselves humming and singing along. Christmas carols – these beautiful songs – are widely loved by Christian believers and non-believers alike.
Christmas carols and the season itself have a unique ability to bring people together. During the famous World War I Christmas truce in 1914, soldiers on both sides of the trenches on the Western Front in Europe stopped fighting, and shared food and small keepsakes, and some enemy soldiers played soccer and others sang Christmas carols together.
After they returned home from history’s next and deadliest war, some World War II veterans told stories about how during the Battle of the Bulge and other battles waged during Christmas, sometimes German and Allied soldiers stopped fighting to sing “Silent Night” together in their different languages.
Some of our most joyful moments of the year come during Masses on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, when the music during the liturgy includes the carols we know and love. We experience that same joy when our Catholic schoolchildren sing carols at their Christmas pageants. During those moments, we join friends and strangers in singing the carols together with joy and gusto.
Workplaces which can be pressure-filled with deadlines throughout the year, during the Christmas season sometimes include the sound of a band of coworkers going from office to office, leading their colleagues in singing impromptu carols. Neighbors do the same in some towns and communities, going door-to-door to people’s homes.
Singing carols during the Christmas season offers a special form of evangelization, because through them, we are sharing the story of Jesus’ birth. It is beautiful to think this has been the case for generations of Catholics and other Christians around the world for centuries.
For example, 2018 will mark the bicentennial of the music composed for Stille Nacht (“Silent Night”) by Franz Gruber, a schoolmaster and organist, from the lyrics written two years earlier by Father Joseph Mohr, a parish priest in Austria. That classic carol made its debut at a Christmas Eve Mass at Saint Nicholas Church in Oberndorf in 1818.
Some credit the original Latin text for the traditional Midnight Mass processional hymn “O Come All Ye Faithful” – Adeste Fideles – to Saint Bonaventure in the 13th century, King John IV of Portugal four centuries later, or to Cistercian monks.
Whatever the origin of that particular Christmas carol, it endures centuries later, and like other carols, it invites the faithful to hark the herald of angels singing on high and come to the little town of Bethlehem on a midnight clear to see the infant Jesus being held by Mary and protected by Joseph away in a manger, and to join the shepherds in adoring and praising God’s greatest gift to the world, Jesus, a gift that we receive and are called to share with others.
That is why we sing, “Joy to the World!”