Christmas brings festive songs whether you want a Silent Night or not

Yes, it may be The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, but what if all you want is a Silent Night, asks Caomhan Keane

Christmas brings festive songs whether you want a Silent Night or not

DEPENDING on where the hands of your Christmas Doomsday clock fall, tis- or ‘twill soon be, the season to be jolly. But as the ‘real or fake’ debate shifts from Pg3 to Christmas Tree, and tinsel and trinkets make hallways and offices around the country look like they’ve been tarted up by a cash-strapped drag queen, spare a thought for those working in retail, who are gearing up to have their ears assaulted, a tradition as unpleasant as Brussels Sprouts.

Christmas tunes — both secular and religious, soundtrack a season of mercurial mammies, drunken daddies and unhinged brats going loco at the promise of what’s coming down their chimney.

Outside of work there’s no reprieve, as choir after choir panhandle for charity, buskers belt out standards and inebriated nitwits decide that the Nightlink — or the side of the street — is the perfect time to relieve themselves, whilst desecrating Santa Baby.

Is it any wonder, so, that psychologist Linda Blair claims listening to Christmas songs on repeat is akin to water torture for shop workers, who can’t think about anything else other than the fact that Christmas is here! Christmas is here!

Christmas FM will be like Guantanamo for Grinches when the station starts broadcasting tomorrow. In its 10th year, it has raised over €1.25 million for charity since 2008.

Broadcast year-round on the Internet, Garvan Rigby, director and co-founder of the station says that they have an audience beyond the season. “If we look at the stats in the middle of July, 25-30 people will be listening to us every day.” But how have Christmas songs become so integral to the season, when Halloween or Easter pass by unsung?

Christian’s co-opted the holiday from the pagans, who use to celebrate the end of winter by dancing around singing songs.

But, just like Ronan Keating butchered Fairytale of New York, early composers sucked the joy out of the original songs intent by writing solemnly, in Latin.

St. Francis of Assisi brought the fun back when he started his nativity plays in Italy, which quickly spread throughout Europe and were performed in homes and in native languages, rather than churches.

No craic Cromwell attempted to end the holiday, so peeved was he by the seasonal sesh, making carol singing the illegal warehouse rave of the Protestant Reformation.

But the Victorians revived it, producing some of the finest carols- Adeste Fideles, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Away in a Manger — songs that urged people to think of others who may not share their good fortune. The art of carolling took off in a big way, with people going door-to-door, singing songs in return for food and drink.

Silent Night, perhaps the most famous Christmas carol of that — or any period, was written by Father Joseph Mohr who purportedly needed a song that could be performed on guitar alone after his church’s organ froze before Christmas Eve. Franz Xaver Gruber composed the melody and such was the power of the song, that almost 100 years later, on Christmas Day 1914, a truce commenced between opposing factions when troops on either side serenaded each other with the song.

Carols by Candlelight, an annual service that takes place in Christ Church has been sold out since summer.

The brainchild of a young Australian radio presenter, who, concerned for people spending Christmas alone, had the idea to gather a large group of people to sing Christmas songs together by candlelight.

“The one thing people do at Christmas is go to their family,” says Ian Keatley, organist and director of Music at Christ Church Cathedral.

“All these songs are so entwined with thoughts of time gone by, and people are just desperate to feel connected to their past. Singing the words brings memories flooding back — of grandparents who might have passed on, of school days, or the security of childhood. When they hear these melodies they feel warm inside.”

“When adults look at their own children, the music fills them with nostalgia and a sense of tradition,” says Garvan. “What we find, year after year, is that people don’t really want to hear any new songs. They want to hear songs that are 30 years old or more. Bing Crosby, Eartha Kitt, Dean Martin.

Despite their upbeat composition many modern Christmas songs are derived from tragic events. James Gillespie, composer of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, wrote it just hours after hearing his brother had died, reflecting on his mother’s threats to them both if they didn’t behave.

White Christmas was written in the dead of a summer night, when Irving Berlin couldn’t sleep, so consumed was he by the death of his baby boy the previous Christmas Day.

While East 17’s Stay Another Day is about the suicide of frontman Tony Mortimer’s brother.

The biggest seasonal hits of the last 30 years, by Mariah, Wham! and The Pogues were upbeat tearjerkers reflecting on lost love. While The Pretenders’ 2000 Miles is a tribute to their former guitarist who died the year before.

“The songs themselves use musical techniques in the composition to exhilarate you” concludes Ian. “They have a recognisable tune and story the listener can latch onto, often with a change of key to signify the feeling of being uplifted. “People who might have a loathing for the church — a grievance or a hatred for it, can often be unexpectedly affected when they hear a song that brings them back to another time and all these emotions come bubbling up.”


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