Published on 11 Dec 2016

Do you have a favourite Christmas carol? Mine is ‘Silent Night.’ The simple melody matches the quiet beauty of the words. And at our church, at midnight Mass, everyone joins in singing it. You can feel the prayer behind it, which is hardly surprising as St Augustine is credited with saying, ‘Those who sing, pray twice.’ 

Our Christmas carols hold so much prayer and emotion for us. From the poignant waiting and melancholy of the Advent ‘O come O come Emanuel’ to the grandeur of ‘Hark the Herald’, to the dizzy joy of ‘Ding Dong Merrily.’ The incredible thing about carols is how they continue to be one of the great, shared experiences of Christmas. Most people, even if they don’t attend a church service, know at least one carol.

And they tell stories! Starting with the Annunciation of ‘The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came,’ we join Mary and Joseph as they journey to Bethlehem in ‘Little Donkey.’ The scene is set with ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’, until finally arriving in the stable, when we sing of Jesus’s birth in the lullaby, ‘Away in a Manger.’

We move out into the fields and listen with the shepherds as the angels announce the heavenly birth in ‘While Shepherds Watched their Flocks.’ The story continues as the Magi follow the star in ‘We Three Kings’, not forgetting Herod’s cruel slaughter of the Holy Innocents in the ‘Coventry Carol.’ Our carols reflect our world in all its needs. We never forget the snow is cold and deep and that Christ is born in a stable, not a palace. 

I once had the opportunity of leading carols in one of our prisons. An elderly father was visiting his son, one of the inmates. He came and asked if he could sing a carol as a duet with his son. They sang together up at the front. It was a moment of grace to see the two of them together. The father told me afterwards he’d never sung with his son before and just how much the moment meant.

I am a great believer in adults singing for and with children. Carols allow us to do this. They have great sing-able tunes that don’t need an accompaniment. Children can join in easily too; so many are lullabies or feature children – remember ‘The Rocking Carol,’ with its baby rocking actions!

There are versions for every type of musical taste from cathedral choristers to gospel choirs. Listen to golden oldies like Johnny Mathis singing ‘When a Child is Born’ or more recently Annie Lennox singing ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ or even Little Mix singing ‘Silent Night’ on the X Factor. It’s also a great opportunity to share carols from cultures and languages different from our own. Join in with ‘Feliz Navidad’, with its catchy Spanish chorus, or why not sing ‘Silent Night’ in its original German, ‘Stille Nacht’. In researching this article I found a great website

Perhaps you will be lucky enough to have carol singers knocking at your door, or will see them outside the local supermarket. Take time to listen with your children. And of course join in.

Margaret Bateson-Hill


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