Christmas songs are liked in the United Sates more than in any other nation in the world. This can be shown by the fact the US has produced more Christmas songs than any nation despite the dominance of England in the 21st century. In spite of the American dominance in the production of nonreligious songs, the Christmas carols are becoming common. This shows that the America culture is shifting to this kind of music. The American population experiences the performance of Christmas songs in every Christmas season, and according to Studwell, “Even the most sacred Christmas carols have become a continuing part of the popular culture” (171). Christmas carols are songs, whose lyrics center the birth of Jesus Christ and the importance of his birth to the Christians. Since Christianity is the main and the most dominant religion in America, the Christmas carols are an important part of culture in the society. This essay explores the significance of the Christmas songs in the America culture.
The Origin and Popularity of Christmas Songs
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Lowell Mason was the first composer of the Christmas songs in America and it featured back in 1839 as an international hit due to his melodious composition of the song, Joy to the World. However, “The uncertainty about the authorship of the music is due to the strange notation ‘from Handel’, which accompanied the tune when it was published with English poet Isaac Watt’s 1719 words in the 1839 collections” (Studwell 171). After a series of development in the Christmas songs, the next burst of Christmas hits was observed in 1932. From the 1860s until the 1930s, only two Christmas songs remained popular. The lyrics to the song Away in a Manger was available in 1885 from anonymous, but the music to the song was composed by James Ramsey, two years after publication. The song appeared with a Luther’s Cradle Hymn notation and this raised the beliefs that the song was a carol by the Protestant reformer, Martin Luther. The second Christmas carols; Go Tell it to the Mountains, is also considered a hit of the 20th century and Frederick J. Work is believed to be the composer of the song.
The wave of American popularity with Christmas songs was again witnessed in the early 1930s as the greatest American lyricist; Haven Gillespie in collaboration with Frederick J. Coots produced Santa Clause in Comin’, to Town. The hit was not only among the most popular Christmas songs, but was also a profitable production. Eddie Cantor was the first to introduce the song into the American airwaves in the 1934 radio program. In 1933, John Jacob Nile composed the century’s greatest and most religious hit; I Wonder As I Wander. The song borrowed its composition from the folk song that was famous in North Carolina. Other compositions were also done between 1933 and 1934, and the trend continued until the post World War II when several hit Christmas carols were produced. White Christmas and Jingle Bells songs were the most popular Christmas carols of in the mid- to late- 19th century in the American society. The former was a little popular due to its secular nature, which is a reflection of the preference of the Americans and choice of songs (Studwell 171).
After the World War II, another popular Christmas song The Christmas Song was written by Robert Well and Mel Torme, which is considered as a holiday classic song. The most popular songs during this period were songs by Johnny Mark, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer produced in 1949 and White Christmas. The songs attracted television owners to generate holiday special. However, in 1951, the popularity of the Christmas songs decreased since songs became rare. The most successful lyrical production was the rendition of the Jingle Bells in the category of Christmas rock songs. Do You Hear What I Mean was a more religious song that remained popular in 1962. The production remained the favorite, as the subsequent productions did not appeal to the public. The next popular Christmas song after Do You Hear What I Mean was Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.
Celebration of the Christmas holiday is a global phenomenon, because Christianity is spread across the globe. This explains the significance of communicating the Christmas theme, which is the birth of Jesus Christ to the people. According to Clancy, “Its universal themes of peace to all humankind, generosity, and joy in salvation are central to Christians in every land and time” (13). From this statement, the theme of Christmas songs is to drive the Christians closer to salvation.
Other than the spiritual growth of the songs, the production of Christmas songs over the centuries has warmed the people’s heart and encouraged harmonious living. Usually, the sights and sounds of Christmas songs play during the December holidays when families are together. Many families enjoy their reunion after job and education; hence, creating cherished memories in the social gatherings. The people listen to the songs regardless of their religious backgrounds. Moreover, the Christmas carols transcend religious barriers to the modern time of secular and commercialized music. As much as the festivities are occasioned by family shopping and parties, Christmas carols warm the people’s heart in the best way that the festivities cannot.
The use of Christmas carols, Christmas trees, and sending gifts among other celebrations during the holidays began in the 19th century as outlined above. The trends started in the US and Germany to replace the traditional and religious devotion that was the focus of Christmas. The modern way of celebrating Christmas is distinct from the “days of spiritual rejoicing and communal feasting” (Clancy 13).
Instruments for Playing Christmas Songs
Christmas songs were played long before the era of radio and gramophones. During this period, the songs were played using automatic instruments; for instance, the orchestras that produced a similar sound to a small orchestra. This instrument was very popular then. Those who could afford private entertainment played the carols on Swiss musical boxes. Music for all public was played in public places like restaurants and hotels. Since the owners of the places changed to playing Christmas songs when the festivities began. In the 19th century, the majority who preferred to have private parties outside the public places liked the automatic musical instruments. As time passed, increasing efforts was made to let the carols emulate violin sounds. The Hupfeld’s Phonoliszt-Violina is among the ancient instruments that were used. The instrument was popular due to the sensational effect it caused when the strings were touched. Moreover, Christmas songs can be played on recorders and the choice of a recorder depends on individual choice. This recorder plays on the C note to give a soprano sound.
Christmas carols production has improved from the ancient methods with the improvement of audio technology. The main stages of technological advances have seen the field move from the mechanical methods of recording to the modern digital means. Magnetic tape recording uses a magnetic material that moves in a recording head. Analogous sound in form of electrical pulses passes through the recording device exiting the production of magnetization compared to the electrical pulses. An improvement of the magnetic tape recorder saw the invention of multi-track recording capable of dividing a tape to produce multiples of Christmas carols due to the inception of stereo sound. It was then possible to record two tracks simultaneously from different sources. Two-channel stereo sound production is still popular in the production of Christmas carols. Multitrack recording today is even more developed as it is possible to include more than twenty tracks in a single tape recording by use of computer operating systems that can burn track mixes in CDs and DVDs or effect transmission. Transmission of pictures in motion is possible via the use of Moving Pictures Experts Group (MPEG) (Fischer 31-32).
Consequently, film recording followed magnetic recording and it used optical materials in its production. In 1926, William Fox and Warner Brothers were able to record Christmas songs on discs. With the development of Vitaphone by singer Don Juan it was now possible to record sound optically alongside motion pictures that is still in use today. The Vitaphone technology in conjunction with the modern digital technology has boosted the achievement of high quality synchronization. Digital recordings were first done in the 1970s by three corporations, Mitsubishi, Denon and Soundstream. In New York, Editel Productions came up with a colored digital camera, which was used in studios to give quality pictures whose price ranged $75,000-$80,000 (Abramson 140). Now recording of sounds has been diversified by computer use with recordings and storages being devised from time to time to suit both convenience and volume of data. These storage devices include CDs, DVDs, computer hard disc drives, and flash memories that store a wide range of audio-recorded products.
In the times of yore, Christmas celebration was more of a religious festival. However, currently the celebration is done with great pomp and joviality across the globe by people of different faiths. This actually depicts how Christmas songs have become popular. Christmas is a festival of unity of humankind and the celebration is characterized with Christmas carols. The most popular Christmas carols, is Jingle Bells and its popularity is across the globe by people of different faiths. More than anything it is the passion and zest that a Christmas carol brings with it, which adds on to the true spirit of the celebration. The jingling bells strives to awake the dull spirits and enthusiasm in people. Christmas songs bring forth the golden memories of the festivity of the past. From the dull and slow hymns and hymnals, carols have indeed come a long way.
Who Sings Carol Songs
In the ancient years, when Christmas songs were still not popular, there were specifically set of people who were given the authority to sing the carols. These people were called Waits. The Waits under the control of their leader would perform and collect money from the public. However, this culture changed and with the formation of an orchestra and instruments, which accompanied the Christmas songs, all people were allowed to sing the Christmas songs. An increase in the popularity of Christmas song saw the emergences of different new songs and various genres and style of singing. Today in America, Christmas songs are enjoyed by people of various faiths and denominations. It is prudent to note that, carol composers have to come up with several secular compositions. The globalization and emergence of the Internet and other forms of media influenced Christmas carols and they became no longer Christian affairs, but they have grown to secular teaching, which every man enjoys during Christmas festivals.
Treatment of Christmas Songs
Christmas carols are sung by all people all over the world during the holiday season, but the evolution of the familiar songs may be much different from popular perception. The America society loves Christmas songs and it does not regard as Christian song, but rather as a festive song, which not only encourage unity but also promote brotherhood. The unity of America society is evident when it comes to the treatment of Christmas song. It is a clear indication that the society has grown to embrace Christmas carols as American tradition, which go beyond all faiths. In recent times, many people in America have come to “secularize” Christmas and Christmas songs, by taking away of all references to Christianity. In addition, legal hurdles in America have successfully removed the elements of Christianity in most of carol songs sung in schools. Many Christian evangelicals have been extremely troubled by the secularization trends in Christmas and carols. They feel that Christians battling with aggressive secular forces that look for to remove everything that has reference to Christ and the Bible.
Significance of Christmas Songs in American Society
The Christmas songs have promoted humanistic concept and ethical views that are entrenched on the value of human beings, individually and collectively are basically regarded as more important on rational thought than any faith (Dawson 24).They rely on logic and discredits the concept of superstition. Humanist movements across America illustrate to people the benefits of classical knowledge of pre-Christian sources, which had previously been prohibited by the Catholic Church and the so-called Holy Scriptures. The Christmas songs significantly impacted the growth and development of the Renaissance and should be given more priority. Towards this, the history of the origin of The Christmas songs is long and motivating. Therefore, the inquiry into the divinity and the history of Christmas songs is quite important since it offers the insights into the realm of religion as well as general social life. In addition, it puts the concept of scriptural laws into perspective and open logical discussion among different community discourse. Christmas songs provide a lesson not only to Christians, but also to other people who subscribe to different religious beliefs that, religion is not the end of everything and therefore, the concept should be approached by a free mind. A free mind is receptive to new ideas.
Tradition in America and Christmas Songs
Tradition and its meaning are multifaceted subject, which looks not only as a complex, but also confusing yet an interesting subject of discussion. In this continuing discussion of tradition and its meaning, several scholars have come up with a definition of tradition; however, there is no single definition, which is universally agreed on. In trying to explain the origin of several meanings of tradition, Ben-Amos asserts that, “definitions flourish when the semantics are vague, and the neglect from which the term tradition has suffered reflects, paradoxically, a healthy position in the scholarly and literary discourse”(11). In this regard, the diverse and dynamic nature of tradition as well as culture put the whole concept of tradition and its meaning in perspective as one of the subject that is very much controversial.
In America folklore, tradition has three main meanings. First of all, it means a collection of inherited materials; secondly, it is the real process of inheritance and lastly, the transmission of the collected material to the general masses. In America, the tradition is significantly valued and has several meanings in the society. As a matter of fact, American folklorist, tradition shapes and defines societal value as shown by Ben-Amos that, “people have fostered and a system of religious norms and cultural values which peopled lived and believed in” (23). Additionally, it brings strictness and sets standard for folklore scholarly conversation. On the other hand, Hartland as quoted by Ben-Amos explains that tradition is the entire circle of thought and practice, customs as well as beliefs, ceremonies, tales, music, songs, dances, and other amusements (71). He further explains that tradition entails philosophy and the superstitions and the institution as delivered by word of mouth and by example from one generation to the other.
Aanalytical tools have been used in the study. Folklore, which include songs, tales, ceremonies, music and dances play a critical role as the prominent analytical tool applied in the study of tradition and culture in “The Seven Strands of Tradition: Varieties in Its Meaning in American Folklore Studies”. These analytical tools are sources of information and are used to study, compare changes in tradition of different societies. Linguistics has been used to analyze tradition in this journal by ensuring that different semantics are examined in order to understand tradition and the culture of America.
Tradition and identity is quite important since man derives high self-esteem from the recognition of oneself worth from tradition. It is also prudent to note that all strands of tradition withstood the test of time and remain the principal metaphor, which not only guides humanity, but also remains as pivotal source of ideas and societal norms. Consequently, tradition and culture define humanity’ ways of life, behavior and systems, which tell more about an origin of a group of people.
Christmas songs play a critical role in the society. Since it is not only remind the people of their tradition, but it also unite the people across all social classes. In this regard, the analysis of the origin and importance of Christmas songs in American society is of great impact to the people.
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