Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Listening closely and laughing.

Little Christmas Robin friend (photographed at Slimbridge)
Christmas songs and carols have the potential to be hilarious. I've had a Christmas playlist on almost solidly for the last fortnight, and have regularly been stopping to listen to the songs properly, and would like to highlight a few odd lines and mis-hearings that have jumped out at me. I love Christmas, and I love Christmas songs, but find it entertaining, millions of people singing along to stuff that doesn't necessarily make sense...so here are a few 'not in the spirit of things' observations for you...!

1. 'The Little Drummer Boy' - ok, so this song is ridiculous from the off, because you repeat the phrase 'pa-rup-a-pum-pum, rup-a-pum-pum, rup-a-pum-pum' throughout the song. Who thought that was a normal refrain? However, the line that stood out this most recent listen through was:

'The Ox and Lamb kept time, pa-rup-a-pum-pum'.

THE OX AND LAMB KEPT TIME!? Where in the Christmas story did it describe the percussive ability of these meager farmyard animals? And who gave them drums? Or were they clicking their hooves? Do they have some inbuilt metronomic ability that none of the rest of us were aware of?

Not convinced.

2. All the songs that mention wombs. I know, I know, the point of the immaculate conception is that it was an immaculate conception (which is truly, honestly, glorious); however at no other time of year do we deem it at all appropriate to sing about anyone's womb, so why must we go into such intimate anatomical detail at Christmas? I'm pretty sure we could rewrite any of those lyrics and it have the same inference. Insult is added to injury when it is coupled to rhyme with the word 'come', with which it definitively does not rhyme.

3. 'Away in a Manger' - I realised today that not once had I thought about what that phrase meant. I guess, though I may be wrong, that it means he's away (like, away from home), and he's in a manger... However it really isn't an obvious or normal phrase. And the way it's normally sung by kids sounds more like 'A Way in a manger', as if the alternative was 'but in a way, not in a manger?'. If I were proper, I'd research the true meaning of this for you and explain it; but as I'm not, I'll just point out that it's odd. (I also enjoy the phrase 'the cattle are lowing'. Not sure what that means either...This song also has the 'until morning is nigh' (NOT NIGHT) line - just rife with misunderstandings for children, really...)


4. 'The Fairytale of New York' by The Pogues - classicly odd, and definitely not a carol. 'You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot, Happy Christmas you arse, I pray God it's our last'. What screams 'Christmas! :D' more?

This is a Red Kite, see its lovely forked tail?
5.  'Do you hear what I hear?' - now this is a cute little song, and I do like it, so this one is a bit more for clarification. When it says:

 'a star, a star, dancing in the night, with a tail as big as a kite,'

...are we talking the tethered aircraft 'kite', or the family of birds 'kite' (which have most excellent and distinctive tails)? Both applicable and appropriate similes, but would just like the song to be footnoted in some way.

6. [MISHEARING] 'The Angel Gabriel' - a beautiful choral piece that gets sung in the Jesus College Carol Concert quite often, and makes me all goosebumpy. However, on first hearing (and again on many other hearings), I definitely got the line:

 'Most highly flavoured gravy, Gloria!' instead of 'Most highly favoured lady...'

At least it works for Christmas either way.

7. 'Bethlehem Down' - again, this is such a beautiful piece of music. Another College Choir favourite that gives me shivers...but it just has *one* line that riles me a little (I know, I know, I'm getting pedantic):

'He that lies now in the white arms of Mary, sleeping so lightly on Bethlehem Down' 

I can't help but think that unless Mary's gone white from the shock of the whole ordeal, or else is bathed with a white, etherial glow, this teenage girl from the Middle East probably had slightly more melanin in those arms than the song gives her credit for.

Ok, I'm going to stop now, because you know what? Seven is a biblical number, and I can only keep up the cynicism for so long. In actual fact, a lot of the reason (apart from getting me into the Christmassy spirit, obviously) that I've been listening so attentively to Christmas music this year is because I've so relished the flagrant worship in them. 

It makes me laugh because we often sing Christmas songs so unthinkingly - they just become part of the sound of Christmas - whether we're Christians or not. And as well as unthinkingly singing all the daft things, we sing of amazing declarations of the word become flesh, salvation to come, and worship to God from angels and people alike, too.

My Favourites bits I've been singing are these:

'O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel'

(O Come, O Come, Emmanuel)

'Ding dong merrily on high,
In heav'n the bells are ringing:
Ding dong! verily the sky
Is riv'n with angel singing.
Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!'
'When he is King they will clothe him in grave-sheets,
Myrrh for embalming, and wood for a crown'

(Bethlehem Down)

'O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born'


This Christmas, listening to these songs has reignited in me the hope that Jesus coming to earth meant for us; and the amazement that God would humble himself to come to earth as a defenseless baby, in the most pitiful of maternity suites.

I hope this Christmas you get a chance to really listen to the music being piped in and sung around you - and to have a chuckle, as well as a think about what's being sung.

To End - one of my favourite Christmas songs: the constant refrain of my brain, no matter what time of year: "Hark how the bells, sweet silver bells, all seem to say 'Throw cares away', Christmas is here bringing good cheer to young and old, meek and the bold..."
  Merry Christmas :) :)


  1. I don't know who/what's more hilarious, you or the Christmas songs :) I refer particularly to your analysis of Away (as in "over there") in a Manager(typo!). Do you not cover animal noises in your course.? I would have thought it was a fundamental skill. So I refer you to "the cattle are lowing". Cat miaow,dogs bark,chinchillas bleat, cattle "low".
    I guess you can be excused the "til morning is nigh" phrase. It's a bit archaic and I think i means "til morning is here" or some such.
    Anyway, pass the tissues please, I'm still weeping with laughter!

  2. ;)

    Come now, I've been learning animal noises with Phoebe, surely cattle moo? I'll try saying 'low' next time I meet a cow, see how the conversation goes...

    (tho thanks for the typo pointer...never enough proofreads to notice those things...!) x

  3. dogs bark but say "woof".
    pigs grunt but say"oink"
    horses whinney but say"neigh"
    cattle low but say"moo".

    I rest my case ;)