The wrong kind of snow?
‘White Christmas’ is still Number One. We have this on the hard evidence of actual sales (over 100 million) rather than the soft touch of popularity polls. When it comes to Christmas songs, Irving Berlin’s classic is unrivalled. Cry your eyes out, Rudolph, Santa, and Jingle Bells: the Bing Crosby winter favourite, nearly as old as me, retains its Guinness World Record as the biggest-selling Christmas song.
As you know, it comes from the film. But the film was ‘Holiday Inn’ in 1942; the movie plot of ‘White Christmas’ was written around it later, cashing in on what was already a big hit before the screen took over. Massively helped by the second film and its regular TV exposure, the song has reached the British charts from eight different artistes, Max Bygraves upwards (1989 if you don’t believe me; it reached No.71).
What are we to make of this? The best that Carols by Candlelight can offer in the snowy genre are the contrasting texts of ‘In the bleak midwinter’ and ‘See amid the winter’s snow’; respectively ‘In the b.m.w.’ and ‘Sats’ (which makes that other song WC).
The refrain of ‘Sats’, adding ‘Hail’ to snow, takes an inordinate slice of your carol service (cf ‘Angels from the realms of glory’) or tempts the vicar to cut out some crucial stanzas. Those who sweep away the snowflakes for the sake of Biblical veracity have not been wholly successful, in either its revision or its reception. And you can’t mess around with the b.m.w. without wrecking it.
So do we go all Dickensian, Irvingite (Berlin, that is) and Crosbyish at Christmas, or take a Puritan line against such sentimental innovations? Answers on a postcard, please; and thanks to all who have responded to this column over its previous 73 appearances. This is it.
As you have read here before, a Christmas service where everybody gushes about how sweet it all was may not have been quite worthy of the Christian gospel. On the other hand, why alienate the whole village (which unlike London knows its snow when it sees it) for a generation by insisting on historical accuracy? Is it really so vital? If not, why not? But if so, I hope that long ago you banned first Nowells, three kings and three ships.
Dare we come sailing in, not to Bethlehem but to New Zealand for some final seasonal help? One of Shirley Erena Murray’s Christmas texts begins ‘Sing a carol for summer’. There’s just room for some mountain snow but the mood is set by ‘Feel the kiss of the sun on skin – you know that summer’s a coming in…’ In case we northern hemisphere singers haven’t got the point, another of hers begins with the somewhat laboured, ‘Carol our Christmas, an upside down Christmas:/ Snow is not falling and trees are not bare’.
A third example from what we are pleased to call ‘down under’ is better: ‘Son of poverty, shame us till we see/ self-concerned, how we deny you,/ by our greed we crucify you/ on a Christmas tree, Son of poverty’. Not, I think, a likely candidate for King’s College Chapel or its ten thousand imitations, and more use spoken than sung.
For new songs to sing, explore more of Dudley-Smith. These too are small reminders of God’s world and ours, and a Scriptural step backwards from reindeer, snow and Bing. A joyful, authentic, holy Christmas to you!
Snowbound or not, Christopher Idle hopes to celebrate Christmas with some of his family.