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The Problem with Holly Jolly Christmas Songs

Christian leader and writer Russell Moore recently overheard a young man complaining how much he disliked Christmas. But his anti-Christmas mood wasn’t centered on holiday stress; it was all about the music. At first Moore thought he was in the presence of the Grinch, until the young man explained why he found the music so bad. “Christmas [music] is boring because there’s no narrative tension,” he said.

Russell Moore commented:

For him, the [shallow] lyrics of our Christmas songs couldn’t encompass [the world’s heartache]. Simeon the prophet never wished anyone a “holly-jolly Christmas” or envisioned anything about chestnuts roasting on an open fire. We ought to make sure that what we sing measures up with the “narrative tension” of the Christmas story.

In a time when we seem to learn of a new tragedy each day, the unbearable lightness of Christmas seems absurd to the watching world. But, even in the best of times, we all know that we live in a groaning universe. Just as we sing with joy about the coming of the Promised One, we ought also to sing with groaning that he is not back yet (Rom. 8:23), sometimes with groanings too deep for lyrics.

We have a rich and complicated and often appropriately dark Christmas hymnody. We can sing of blessings flowing “far as the curse is found,” of the one who came to “free us all from Satan’s power.” Let’s sing that, every now and then, where we can be overheard.


Russell Moore, “The Problem With Our Holly Jolly Christmas Songs,” RussellMoore.Com: Blog (11-29-16)

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