So like most people, my favorite Christmas carol is Little Drummer Boy. (Go ahead, ask your friends; it’s usually a tie between that and O Come All Ye Faithful, with a small but steadfast minority holding out for Joy to the World.)
I’ve become a big fan of Lindsey Stirling’s Little Drummer Boy but I love Bob Seger’s sweet rock version now and for all time.
You can also reduce me to rubble by getting a boy’s choir to sing Once in Royal David’s City. They hit that line “Jesus is our childhood pattern” and people in the next pew hand me tissues.
Still, we all have carols that aren’t our favorites but have lines or verses that stick out to us, y’know?
We Three Kings isn’t my favorite carol. In fact, as a child, its somber tone and minor chords used to scare me, along with In the Bleak Midwinter. I remember shrinking behind my mother in a church pew until she hauled me out from behind her with a “what on earth” look. The one just before you get taken out to the bathroom and corrected, so I quit. But those songs were just outright creepy as a kid.
Now, my favorite verse from a carol overall is in Kings. It might be verse three depending on your source, and it says Glorious now behold him arise, King and God and Sacrifice.
As children we have no idea how our lives are going to shape and form, but now as a trained folklorist I recognize in this line the echoes of Christianity co-opting and overcoming some very old gods with a small g. The Celtic bog bodies, the Easter deity sacrifices, all the echoes that Ecclesiastes 3:11 told us were there. (That’s the verse that says God put eternity in our hearts so someday like would call to like, in a paraphrased version.)
Christians can get really pissy about how symbolism is borrowed from pre-Christian belief, as if this were a bad thing, and pagans can get right pissy back about the moral high ground tone on the co-opting. But I admit this back-and-forth of old, new, and repurposed has always been one of the things I love about studying Christian theology: the power of the sacrifice the strength of the removal of sacrifices, the whole FULFILLMENT of a system, not its dismantling. The legend that when Jesus was born a yew tree cracked and a voice yelled down from the mountain, “The Great God Pan is dead” gave me chills. (He died in a battle; you can look up what GK Chesterton wrote about this if you’re interested.)
The joy of renewals, celebrating seasons, seeing patterns, enjoying the turning circle that turns through eternity: we were supposed to be eternally enjoying these things, and when that got messed up, a very ugly fulfillment was set in place to put us back in the circle. Christian Easter is a terrible, bloody holiday with a highly significant and glorious plot twist.
I think that is the coolest thing ever. Not many pagans and Christians want to dance together at Solstice, at Christmas, when the Day Star turns in our hearts as it does in the sky (that’s 2 Peter 1:19 plus a whole lot of pagan poetry) and the days get longer and we know resurrection takes many forms. Glorious now behold him arise, king and God and sacrifice, hallelujah, hallelujah, worship him God most high.
What’s your favorite carol this time of year?