I’ve become everything I hate
Or hated, at least.
Today, I’m attending a carol service, and I’ll be in church again on Christmas Day. I don’t want to have anything to do with the church in general, but I’m quite happy to turn up for high days and holidays. I used to be scornful of people like that – people like me, I suppose. Either you believe it or you don’t, I thought – why would you reject those beliefs and still turn up on big occasions? But there’s a strong element of culture and tradition that I can’t easily shake off, and I’m a real sucker for a good carol.
It’s around this point that someone usually complains that I shouldn’t enjoy carols unless I accept the theology contained in their lyrics. How can you lustily sing along to something that’s making claims you completely reject? If I like carol singing, I must either be in denial about my beliefs, or a plain old hypocrite. It’s an argument that’s superficially convincing, but no more than that.
Even Christians will find much to disagree with if they pay attention at these services. How many people enjoy the Sans Day Carol, for example? But however pious the sentiment, the whole thing is nonsense from start to finish. Even the opening couplet manages to be wrong in practically every detail:
Now the holly bears a berry as white as the milk
And Mary bore Jesus all wrapped up in silk
Is there anyone who could claim that those lines are actually true and keep a straight face?
There’s also the awkward fact that carols are essentially a fusion of the sacred and the secular, with many of the carols we love set to tunes that started out as drinking songs. Most amusingly, Charles Wesley wanted his words for Hark! the Herald Angels Sing to be set to a solemn, holy tune, while Felix Mendelssohn wrote the tune for another purpose entirely and considered it inappropriate for sacred use. Bad luck, guys – we had other ideas.
I like a lot of different types of music, and I like singing along to them, but that doesn’t mean the lyrics are a reflection of my thoughts or beliefs. I happily sing along to Les Misérables, despite not being a 19th century French revolutionary. I’m not a teenager in love, you’re not my wonderwall (whatever that means), and I’m positive that neither of us is the eggman, or even the walrus.
So I’m sorry to anyone who finds my behaviour confusing or offensive (especially my old self, with whom I feel a particular connection), but I consider carols an essential part of the Christmas season whether I agree with them or not, and I’m not about to give them up for anyone.