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Apparently, those of us who like Christmas music are in a minority.
I, like some of you, have no doubt heard someone make a comment much like the Grinch’s, “Blast this Christmas music! It’s joyful and triumphant,” or have seen a meme or comment posted on social media expressing the disdain for Christmas music.
To be honest, the sentiment bothers me that while people like the Grinch don’t like it, even hate it, they usually admit that by and large it does arouse a certain “joyfulness” and according to Victoria Williamson, Ph.D., who conducts research on the psychology of music at Goldsmiths University of London, has found this to be the case.
In her research, she found that most of us find that Christmas music is nice, nostalgic and it helps to get us into the holiday spirit, but after hearing Brenda Lee’s, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and Jimmy Durante’s “Frosty the Snowman” for the umpteenth time, we might be hoping for a “silent night.”
Endless loops of Gene Autry’s “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or even Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” can have a psychological impact known as the “mere exposure effect,” a psychological phenomenon whereby people feel a preference for people or things simply because they are familiar, but just like spending too much time with an annoying family member around the holidays, eventually the “familiar” turns to foment.
“There’s an inverted U-shaped relationship between the amount of times we hear music that we like and our subsequent reaction to it,” she says.
Accordingly, at first we like the music, then we like it more and more until it hits a peak, and then we crash down — we’ve had enough!
And so, with that, I guess I better understand the eventual slide into yuletide madness over Christmas music. But I still like Christmas music, primarily the hymns.
My father tells me that my grandfather loved “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem,” and I am quite fond of it, myself. There are, of course, the simple but sublime “Away in a Manger,” “Joy to the World” and “The First Noel,” just to mention a few.
But there is a majesty and triumph expressed in “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee,” expectancy and exuberance in “Oh Come All Ye Faithful,” and peace and tranquility in “Silent Night.”
And there is little doubt that few songs capture the glory and wonder of the birth of Christ more than “O Holy Night,” but sadly, I have found very few churches sing these great hymns of the Advent. I think mainly because they aren’t sung enough, therefore the melodies are strange to the 21st-century Christian.
So we are still asking, “Mary, Did You Know?” to which I will have to admit has fallen to the bottom of my Christmas favorites. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I think it is a beautiful song with a very insightful message, but like the “mere exposure effect” described above, I’m of the opinion she’s got to know by now.
I think she would say, as Faith Hill so beautifully states, “A Baby Changes Everything!”
There are a lot more beautifully written contemporary Christian songs that I believe deserve to be heard, especially Stephen Curtis Chapman’s “This Baby,” “Gloria” by Michael W. Smith, “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” by Rebecca St. James, and many, many more.
There are two, however, that the mere thought of these songs make my heart swell with emotion.
The first is by Chris Rice, entitled “Welcome to Our World”. Just a couple of lines:
“Tears are falling, hearts are breaking,
How we need to hear from God.
You’ve been promised, we’ve been waiting,
Welcome, Holy Child, welcome, Holy Child.
Hope that You don’t mind our manger,
How I wish we could have known.
But long-awaited Holy Stranger,
Make Yourself at home,
Please make Yourself at home.”
There are a couple of verses more, and I certainly encourage you to look the song up for yourself, but I would advise you to do so in a private setting, and allow the beauty of the message to wash over your soul. And have a tissue or two handy.
The second is by David Allen Clark, Donald A. Koch and Mark R. Harris, more commonly known as the contemporary Christian group 4Him. It is entitled, “Strange Way to Save the World.” It is written from the perspective of Joseph, Mary’s husband, and again, the music and lyrics are well beyond my ability to describe.
“I’m sure he must have been surprised
At where this road had taken him,
‘Cause never in a million lives
Would he have dreamed of Bethlehem.
And standing at the manger,
He saw with his own eyes.
The message from the angel come to life
And Joseph said,
‘Why me? I’m just a simple man of trade.
Why Him, with all the rulers in the world?
Why here, inside this stable filled with hay?
Why her, she’s just an ordinary girl?’
Now I’m not one to second-guess
What angels have to say,
But this is such a strange way to save the world.”
Yes, it was.
Alvin R. Bass Jr., a Wilson native, resides in Wilson with his wife, two children and granddaughter. For extended versions of his columns, visit his Facebook page, “The Lovable Bigot.”