There has been much conversation lately about the meaning of some songs that have become associated with the Christmas season. That is, they are songs generally sung during the Thanksgiving and New Year's holidays then not heard again for another 12 months.
Without assessing a viewpoint on a particular song, we agree it is good to frequently examine what we sing and what we say. Scripture reminds us to do so, especially teachings, spirits and ourselves. Re-examination not only yields growth, it also deepens discoveries that yield fruit. Those who lead music for Christian worship are regularly challenged to test the lyrics of newer songs for theological accuracy as well as singability.
At the same time, we must often revisit beloved "traditional" songs to make certain we know what we're saying, and not just singing songs because "it's my favorite." It's important to grasp the intent of the author or the rationale behind the song. This is, perhaps, a reason for some of the conversations about holiday outside of church circles today.
Over a decade ago, KIT Ministries took such a journey, looking afresh at the lyrics and origins of songs associated with Christmas. We discovered fascinating and cathartic messages. This discovery enabled us to create a one-act play, "Carol Story," that consists solely of the lyrics of Christmas carols spoken as dialogue.
The original script was designed for one presentation and has pretty much been the same group of songs 17 songs. As time passed and requests came to present in new locations, the list was expanded slightly to accommodate pieces we had not originally considered. The additions helped shape the script because it was necessary to quantify "carols" from other Christmas songs. The primary qualification is that a Christmas "carol" must tell an element of the the story of Christ based in Scripture.
As songs we'd first overlooked came to our attention, we heard other lyrics that allowed a transition in our text. Many times the lyric was one phrase of a song. By the time we began recording sections of "Carol Story" in live performance, the spoken playlist encompassed 21 songs. Only one song is technically not a "carol" according to our criteria, however, we added the lyric as dialogue when our research disclosed the author's original title, "The Carol of the Drum." Such anecdotes further inspired us to pen brief historical essays about the carols -- how they came to be, their influence on culture, and upon musicians associated with their development or popularity.
Carols from Beyond America
Many of the songs we associate as Christmas songs, or as Christmas carols, originated in other nations. As often occurs today, new songs were created by adapting fresh lyrics to standard tunes. The process made the new tune singable more quickly. Two well-known non-Christmas examples are "America (My Country 'Tis of Thee)," whose tune is the British national anthem, "God Save The Queen;" and, the U.S. national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner." That patriotic poem Francis Scott Key which wrote during the War of 1812 was paired with a popular drinking song hailed in American pubs as if to thumb their noses at the British.
The prelude to "Carol Story" demonstrates examples of this technique with brief samples of popular Christmas songs whose origins were folk songs on foreign shores. One from England, one from France.
As a bonus, we wish you a Merry Christmas in the spirit of Christmas today -- joy in His name -- not as the song was originally intended: as a sarcastic response from the poor to the rich, but a heartfelt sign for you to learn and share when the time is appropriate.
The Easter Edition: A Sequel
"Carol Story" has grown beyond our expectations and is now a requested holiday season presentation. So much so, we received a request for a companion piece for Easter. The format is the same, adapting lyrics as dialogue. Because there are not as many "Easter carols" about the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, the selection of lyrics is smaller. We take two steps to compensate for the "shortage":
1. We supplement the life-of-Jesus lyrics from two sources -- selections of praise and worship songs that are sung during weekly Services of Worship throughout the year; and reprising some of the Christmas carols in a resurrection context. The combined lyric-dialogue list is 39 songs.
2. To strengthen the thread between the lyric-dialogue, the narrative consists of dramatic readings of Gospel accounts.
"Carol Story: The Easter Edition" debuted in 2016 and was well-received. So much so that audience members who had seen both recommended we present both "Carol Story" and "Carol Story: The Easter Edition" as a complete evening of theater.
As with "Carol Story," we have found the stories behind the songs fascinating, along with assorted arrangements of the tunes. So, in this space and our social media outlets, we'll share some of the stories behind the 61 songs that are adapted for the scripts of "Carol Story" and "Carol Story: The Easter Edition."
Feel free to look at the entire play list, then follow us for the daily video postings of some arrangements along with brief anecdotes. We trust that through these two methods, the songs of Christmas that you sing with joy or just hear as background white noise while out and about, will have a deeper impact, a kingdom impact, to allow you to hear the Christ of Christmas at times you're least expecting. Like, everyday.
LEARN MORE: The Carol Story and Carol Story Easter Edition Playlist
The KIT 'n' Kaboodle Blog
The essays here are culled from our travels, conversations, worship experiences and discoveries.
Many are reprints from our newsletter, The KIT 'n' Kaboodle, or Facebook notes over time.
They're written by our ensemble, Garlan Garner, Michael Edgar Myers or Vikki J. Myers -- solo, or collectively.