As Christmas approaches, we tend to immerse ourselves in Christmas carols, and Stories behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas by Ace Collins makes these songs much more meaningful in teaching us about the heritage of some of our most beloved carols. Here is a sample of some of the songs afdressed in this book:
“Angels We Have Heard on High” has traditionally been attributed as a French carol, but evidence suggests that this song traces its origin even before France was made a Christian country. Even further, the chorus can be traced back to 140 A.D. and maybe further. It gives me chills to realize that since it often took a while for anything to get set in writing, the very words and tune we sing, “Gloria, in excelsis Deo!” may have been sung by some who knew Jesus in the flesh!
“A Christmas Song” (“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire”) was written in the hottest day of the year in Southern California when a songwriter tried to keep cool by thinking of winter. What makes this sing remarkable is that it broke the racial barrier for popular Christmas music by being written by the white Mel Torme while sung and popularized by the African American Nat King Cole, opening the door for black musicians to come.
“The First Noel” is an example of a medieval folk song. Written in an era when the Church disallowed all but its dark, boring music of its traditions. The song is not entirely accurate about biblical details, suggesting that the shepherds saw the star, but this reflects the common lack of biblical education allowed to commoners in the Middle Ages. “The First Noel” brings a sense of awe to the Christmas story.
“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is another medieval era song that Collins considers to have one of the strongest messages of the theology of Christmas, if we only knew what the song actually means. In Middle English, “merry” did not mean happy, but rather strong, mighty, or powerful. And “rest” meant make or keep. When you supply the missing comma, the title reads, “God Make You Mighty, Gentlemen, ” which is the end result of Christ’s coming to earth, to fight against Satan in a mighty way.
“Jingle Bells” was not even written for Christmas! It premiered on Thanksgiving! It was just a little ditty celebrating children playing in the snowfall.
“O, Holy Night” has a unique heritage, being penned by a wine merchant and set to music by a famous Jewish composer. When the church discovered that a Jew had written the music, it banned the hymn from services, though the song resonated with people so much that they sang it outside of church. This hymn also made history as the first song ever played over radio waves. On Christmas Eve 1906, Reginald Fessenden used a new device to transmit tones over radio waves, so people listening for Morse Code on ships and telegraph offices suddenly heard the Luke 2 passage of Jesus’ birth being read, followed by a single violin playing “O, Holy Night.”
These are just a few of the carols this book covers. Not only do I give Stories behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas five stars, I encourage you to buy two copies, one for you and one for your best friend to enjoy. That is what I did! This will make a special coffee table book to enjoy for years to come!
To purchase this book for yourself, click here on Amazon.