The Songs of Christmas in America


Christmas, by its very definition, is a special day about Christ.  With all the history that surrounds celebrating Christmas (some secular, some sacred) it’s interesting to see the progression in America over the past few decades in how we view the holiday. 

Nothing shows the common mindset of the nation better than the songs popular with each generation, the songs of Christmas. 

Although “Silent Night” was written in 1818 by Franz Gruber, in 1935 it became a hit single with Bing Crosby’s recording.  In 1941 Katherine K. Davis wrote “The Little Drummer Boy”, which ended up becoming a hit single in 1958.  In 1963, Bing Crosby again topped the charts with “Do You Hear What I Hear?” 

These are examples of songs with a clear Christian message (albeit, with some creative license), honoring the Christian ethic and ultimately Christ Himself.  That generation of listeners embraced these songs (and others like them) as meaningful representations of their own convictions, evidenced by their popularity. 

However, it seems that the general American audience has strayed from the earlier sentiment of a Christ-centered holiday to songs revolving around Santa Claus (“Oh, Santa” Mariah Carey, 2010), elfs (“Elf’s Lament” Michael Buble), Christmas-trees (“Christmas Tree” Lady Gaga, 2009), mistletoe (“Mistletoe” Justin Bieber, 2011), and even wizards (“Wizards of Winter”, 2004 Trans-Siberian Orchestra).  Ranging from secular to crass, songs like “The Greatest Time of Year” (2006, Aly & AJ), or “Mistress for Christmas” (1990 AC/DC) seem to suggest a greater commercialization and decadence in our culture than in past generations. 

I’m not criticizing the artistry, relevance, or general fun that these songs may elicit.  All of them obviously hit a share of the market that put them on top.  But as one man said, “You can tell a lot about a person by observing what they do for entertainment and leisure.”  What does America’s entertainment say about our society? 

While there are examples of secularism in songs from earlier generations, as well as a few sacred examples that have arisen in our contemporary culture, the overall direction of what has been hailed as ‘popular’ through the past decades of American listeners seems to indicate a departure from the centrality of Christ in Christmas.

Let’s remember the true reason for Christmas, not only in our songs, but in our attitudes and convictions, celebrating Christ instead of the myriads of other detractions (i.e. materialism, hedonism, secularism and even mysticism). 

After all Christ is central to the holiday’s name.  Let’s make Him central in our lives, as well.