It’s unlikely that you’d ever hear me humming a hymn, but there is something about a Christmas carol that changes all that, something that sets it apart from other hymns. In fact, I don’t think of carols as hymns at all, just jolly good songs to be sung at Christmas.
Maybe it’s the themes; after all you need to look hard at some of them to find much religious content. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen always reminds me of drinking in the pub for some reason, I Saw Three Ships is basically Greensleeves reworked for Christmas and The Holly and the Ivy is based on a much older, much more pagan, song.
As a not quite teenager I was in the school choir. I got drafted in for some reason even though I don’t think my soprano voice was that good. I guess I helped make the numbers up. After all, you can’t have a choir without lots of choirboys otherwise it wouldn’t be a choir; it’d be a trio or something. Anyway, being in the choir was a real pain in the arse. Far too much practicing in lunch breaks, more thwacking on the back of the head with a hymn book that was good your constitution, and of course being in the choir was seen by some of the other boys as not really rugger-bugger.
I guess you could say that I was an enforced choir boy, Shanghaied you might call it.
Yes, I hated it. But that all changed at Christmastime.
The Christmas Carol concert at the local church was fantastic in so many ways. For me it was the end of school and the start of Christmas. Well worth the weeks of practice and the long droning service itself, even to a not at all religious twelve year old it was beautiful. I have the fondest memories of standing in the choir stalls with my hair neatly brushed singing Gaudete and the Coventry Carol in a candlelit and holly decked church. For a few minutes, as I sang my heart out, I almost believed.