This year, worshipers at the Washington, DC, church where I serve will be hearing Christmas carols on November 29, the first Sunday of Advent. In the past, we’ve saved Christmas carols for the liturgical season of Christmastide, which begins on Christmas Day and continues through Epiphany on January 6. During Advent, we enjoyed Advent hymns, such as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” that help us prepare for the coming of Christ. Why jump ahead to Christmas carols during Advent?
Our children know the secular Christmas carols — the ones that tell the stories of Santa, Rudolph, Frosty, and jingle bells. But unless we teach them directly, they will not know the great carols of our faith.
The short answer is, for the sake of our children. There was a time in our society when children would learn the traditional Christmas carols in school, on the radio, in the shopping mall. When they heard these carols in church, the tunes were already familiar.
That time is past. Most public schools do not teach religious Christmas carols at all, or limit them to a high school choral program. The radio plays “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” and “I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas,” while the shopping malls play “Santa, Baby” and “Let it Snow” in an endless loop. Our children know the secular Christmas carols — the ones that tell the stories of Santa, Rudolph, Frosty, and jingle bells. But unless we teach them directly, they will not know the great carols of our faith.
Most of this teaching will happen at home (or in the car) as families play Christmas music and sing together. Many families enjoy family Advent devotions where they light the Advent candles and sing. I learned “Away in a Manger” as a small child because that was the song we always sang when we lit the red glass votive candles in front of my father’s childhood crèche.
But it’s important that children also have a chance to learn these carols at church. So as we light the Advent candles that symbolize hope, peace, joy and love, we will sing carols that speak of the hope, peace, joy and love Christ brings. It will still be Advent. But what better way to prepare for Christmas than to learn the songs that express what Christmas really means?
- Reaching More People During Advent by Tom Berlin and Lovett H. Weems, Jr.
- The Color of Your Advent Candles Doesn’t Matter by Keith Anderson
- Encouraging Personal Devotion During Advent by Tom Berlin and Lovett H. Weems, Jr.
- Be the Welcoming Church Video Tool Kit