Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Christmas Canon


One of my favorite things to do during the Advent season is post about Christmas music. I love Christmas music of all (er, many) varieties and find it very interesting to delve into what makes a good Christmas song. If you are new to this blog, please check out these articles from past years on various aspects of Christmas music:

Top Five Underrated Christmas Songs (2008)
As the Christmas tunes started being pumped out at all the stores again this year while the Thanksgiving leftovers were still warm, I started to wonder whether we are doomed to hear these same dozen or so songs year after year forever. Will White Christmas ever fall out of style? Will Frosty the Snowman ever be forgotten? Obviously our religious Christmas songs will probably endure so long as there are faithful Christians of any stripe who cherish them, but what about these other, secular songs? And if we are doomed to hear them forever, how will we (at least those of us who are still young) react to these songs when we are hearing them in the year 2060 for the billionth time as elderly persons? I can't imagine by then there will be any charm left whatsoever in Jingle Bells, and I am sure I will probably die by choking on my own vomit if I have to keep hearing that stupid "Parson Brown" line in Winter Wonderland year after year in the nursing home.

In the history of music, the best way to make a song go away is for new songs to come out that replace them. This is quite obvious; the secular, pop-hit radio station in 2009 sounds different than it did in 1989 because new songs have constantly been churned out which bump the older ones back into oblivion. Therefore, what we really need is some new songs in the Christmas canon - then, and only then, will we ultimately be able to get away from these same dozen or so songs that are stuck on repeat throughout the decades.

But this brings up several huge problems. First, we certainly have had new Christmas music that has been put out constantly; almost all artists, whether punk, country, gospel, whatever - put out Christmas music. If we have this new music, then why hasn't it displaced the older canon? For the simple reason that, like most things new, the new songs are inferior. In the realm of religious Christmas music, simply nothing new has been written, at least nothing that would be fit for liturgical use. No religious Christmas music has been written recently that is even pleasant for casual listening - some except the tune Mary, Did You Know? which is a relatively recent composition by Mark Lowry that came out in 1990 and has since spread out and taken its place within the traditional canon. One other exception might be Welcome to Our World, by evangelical musician Chris Rice (1997), which I think is an excellent song. This one, however, has not been picked up on the radar and probably will not enter the canon - it is much too religious. If you've never heard it, take a listen here.

However, most new Christmas music is garbage - secular junk like I Want an Alien for Christmas by Fountains of Wayne or Yule Shoot Your Eye Out by Fall Out Boy, songs that instead of turning our hearts towards the beautiful take our own debased and perverted values and paste them over the Christmas spirit, thus polluting the well, so to speak. This Christmas I've been hearing a lot of Last Christmas, written by homosexual degenerate George Michael. John Lennon's Happy Xmas is another one that makes me want to barf. How dare that ignomious enemy of religion write a Christmas song! Blah. So, with regards to new songs displacing the old ones, there either has not been any new songs of any caliber of quality sufficient to enter the canon or else they just get played a lot anyway even though they stink.

So, practically speaking, the canon seems to be closed, just for the fact that our culture has not produced any musician capable of the task, probably because of the degeneration of our culture and our artistic class. But if the canon is closed practically, is there any reason why it need be closed theoretically? That is, does the fact that we seem to be incapable of bringing forth any new, virbrant and enduring Christmas songs mean that it is theoretically impossible that this will ever happen in our cultural milieu?

Well, music is of course an expression of culture. The fact that we can't seem to continue the great tradition of excellent Christmas music that we had in the 18th, 19th and very early 20th centuries tells us there is something very wrong with our society. We have stopped writing these songs, and the ones we do have and repeat ad nauseam have become "traditional"; as a rule of thumb, as soon as we realize that something is traditional, that tradition is already dead or dying (see here). Basically, before we can have any more good, edifying and enduring Christmas music, we have to have a widespread return to the Christianity that gives birth to this music. Any substitutions will be hollow and vain - musicians may try to write Christmas music without Christianity, even Christian-themed music, but it will not be an authentic expression of our culture and will not consequently take on the broad appeal that the classics of ages past have.

It takes a virbrant culture to produce vibrant, edifying songs that endure. A culture that cannot produce anything new and viable is a culture that is dead and ossified. Until and unless the nation becomes more Christian in character, there will be no new Christmas songs of any significance. So, while the Christmas canon may open up in the time of some future restoration of Christian culture, I would say that practically speaking the canon is closed for now.

2 comments:

Steve Calovich said...

The same thing goes for movies.

Take two big anti-Catholics, James Cameron and Sigourney Weaver.

Spend $500 Million on a supposed next level in film making technology.

Write a heavily cliched story whose centerpiece is an old pagan religion, "Tree Worship".

And insult the True God all along the way with vile swearing.

Merry Christmas!

Louis Figueroa said...

You've said the truth. Modern music cannot even compare with the traditional, especially when you put it in the context of Christmas. In fact, I sincerely doubt that most modern artists actually understand the meaning behind the holy day; rather, are motivated pecuniary gain.
It is sad, but I believe that modern culture is in reality dead. It has nothing to offer and that society must reflect on an older time when values and morals were paramount not the desires of self. Perhaps, if this is done, music and culture may once again flourish instead of withering away in the abyss.