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Christmas songs


Christmas carols seem to play a smaller part than they used to in Christmas festivities, with their role increasingly taken over by Christmas songs. Carols, or religiously-themed Christmas songs, enjoyed a Restoration comeback after Cromwellian puritans had banned any celebration of Christmas. Until about the middle of the 20th century they were very much the sound of Christmas, with traditional favourites dominating. Carols such as “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” filled the Christmases of my childhood. The one secular outrider was “Jingle Bells” from the mid 19th century. New carols were occasionally added, including “Mary’s Boy Child” and “Little Drummer Boy.”

The mid 1930s to 1940s saw the rise of the secular Christmas song, most famously with “White Christmas” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” but also including “The Christmas Song” (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire), “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and many others.

And now? I don’t remember hearing a single carol played this year in the piped music of Christmas stores. Instead it was Slade’s “Merry Christmas, Everybody,” Wham’s “Last Christmas,” and Maria Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas.” I did manage to catch some carols in “Carols From King’s” on BBC2 (recorded a few minutes’ walk from my house), but otherwise I had to turn to CDs and YouTube. Apart from that it was wall to wall secular, maybe reflecting changes in the way the nation regards Christmas.


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