a Christmas trauma

Saturday our family were good parishioners and went out to support some folks from our church as they participated in the Festival of Lights in old town Fairfax. COA's participation began with carolers making the rounds at three different restaurants, and everyone was encouraged to have lunch at one of the three in order to be supportive.

Accordingly, we went to the Firehouse Grill, anticipating some above-average pub fare and the chance to sing along with some lovely old carols. We chose that restaurant because I hold a discussion group there twice a month, and I wanted to continue building the relationship.

So we walked in and got a nice corner table right next to the front window, where the boys could look out across the street at Christmas lights and merry making. The bartender came to take our order, and Peter asked what was on tap. The bartender recited the whole list, although he had me at "Guinness." When he got to the last selection, Peter asked what it was, and the bartender said it was a light ale infused with apricot. Peter gave a thumbs up*.

"A fruit beer?" I teased him, "You're going to have a fruit beer while your wife drinks a Guinness?" The bartender said,

"Hey, would it make it better if I served a shot of Jack along with it?"

"Yes," said Peter, "That sounds great."

"Hahahahaha," said the bartender, and then, "Really?" Peter nodded emphatically, and the bartender left to get our drinks.

Then the carolers descended upon us.

They were a group of three ladies from our church-- dear, sweet ladies; sincere ladies. The leader of the trio was a woman of tremendous enthusiasm. She passed instruments to our boys-- fruit shaped children's maracas. Colin got a potato. Marky had an apple. I was given a tambourine. Peter was given a set of adult maracas-- they had been welded together. I do not know why. Perhaps shaking them separately is somehow illicit?

But the best part was the lyrics. We were given lyrics sheets. We were expected to sing along.

"We're taking back 'Jingle Bells,'" announced the leader. I barely had time to wonder if we had ever had them to begin with before being jolted by what I read:

Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord,
Praise His Holy Name,
He's so good, He's so kind,
He's everyday the same...
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord,
Praise His Holy Name,
He's so good, He's so kind,
He's everyday the same!

Dashing through the snow,
With Jesus on my mind,
Telling the Good News
To everyone I find,
Going where God leads,
To every life forlorn,
Spreading forth the Word of God,
That Jesus Christ is Born.

"This. Is. Awesome." I declared gleefully**, looking across the table at Peter, who was still staring in shock at the paper in his hand. I put on my most maniacal grin and gazed at him, teeth bared, until he raised his eyes to meet mine.

The ladies burst into song. I shook my tambourine as loud as I could to disguise the fact that I wasn't actually singing along. Colin shook his potato cheerfully. Peter was too dazed to shake his maracas (pity). Marky clutched his apple and glared at the church ladies with open suspicion. Being two has its advantages.

About the time the church ladies got to "with Jesus on my mind," the bartender returned with our alcohol supply. He elbowed his way through the church ladies and set the beer and whiskey (the whimsical order for which I concluded instantly was powerful evidence of divine providence) before Peter, who looked up gratefully and said,

"Good timing." I do hope the bartender knew Peter wasn't being sarcastic.

All amusement aside, we were deeply bothered by the experience. "Taking back 'Jingle Bells?'" Really? Why? If you want publicly to declare the gospel in song form, why not just sing a freaking Christmas carol already? "Joy to the World," is as blatant as you can get.

Why do evangelicals have this driving need to tweak everything? "Jingle Bells" is a perfectly cheerful, harmless (well, unless you take into account the potential psychosis induced by playing it 5,476 times in a row at your preschooler's insistence) little song as it is. But we had to go and change it about so it's churchified. This is in no way a move which shares the Good News with the community. It is not an invitation; it is a defensive posture. It's the cultivation of a safe identity: Look how Christian we are!

As Peter said, this is not the expression of a confident community. Sing the carols. Tell our story. Love our neighbors. Why is that so hard?

*Peter would like me to clarify that it was only noon, and a lighter beer seemed more appropriate than a stout.

**I think this is a Gen X thing: when a given situation is too awkward or awful, adopting a defense shield of irony is our default response.


Ghost Writer said...

Considering "Jingle Bells" isn't even technically a Christmas carol, that's really sad. If you listen, it's just a winter song, along the lines of "Winter Wonderland" or "Over the River and Through the Woods."

Some people take their Christian martyrdom waaay too far. Especially since we live in a country that is still majority Christian.

Kimberly said...

See, now I have this confident feeling that I am the first one to leave a comment, since there aren't any others, but really, I think that you just haven't awakened to unlock all the others.


"I think this is a Gen X thing: when a given situation is too awkward or awful, adopting a defense shield of irony is our default response."

And sarcasm, too. Or outright lying. In my case, I'll bet I would have burst out with a "oh WOW, how GREAT is this! New Lyrics to a horrible old song!!!"

I apparently am incapable of just keeping my mouth shut. Must be rebellion against the maternal urge: "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." So, I just say something 'nice' that I don't mean.


Glad J was napping and we were able to avoid.

Veronica Mitchell said...

I have decided to take back Mairsy Doats.

happygeek said...

There seems to be a feeling among Christians that our faith is always under attack. Many take "Happy Holidays" as a slam against Christ when it may just be an attempt to acknowledge the many who do not share our faith.
Those lyrics really are something. As my dad would say "betcha the unsaved are just flocking to church after that one!"

(Apparently sarcasm is genetic.)

Christi said...

"We're taking back 'Jingle Bells,'"

From winter? Is it going to be a summer song now? Jingle Bells isn't a Christmas song (although those of us on the northern hemisphere act like it is). Jingle Bells and Frosty say nothing about Christmas.

Maybe taking Christmas back from the fat man in the red suit. . . .

Than again, Christmas was origionally a pagan winter feast that the early Christians took and tweaked to make it non-pagan.

Hmm, the tweaking has been going on for a very long time.

As for what I would have done, I have no idea. Probably sit there in shock. Then again the introvert in me would have me under the table about the time they started passing out instruments.

Jeana said...

I read this hours ago and I can't stop laughing. I think "Dashing through the snow, with Jesus on my mind" is my favorite.

Please tell me they're going to take back "Baby It's Cold Outside". Oh! Or how about "David, the Red-Faced Shepherd"?

Dawn's Art Site said...

In defense of the lame songs I do want to add that beloved Elmo sings a different lyric to "Jingle Bells" on every episode of "Sesame Street" and he doesn't seem to be guilty of keeping it safe in his little world or making everything teachable (as in a particular favorite, "nose, nose, nose...nose, nose, nose..."). I suppose I'm just saying this because I believe the rub was that it was Christians trying to make something Christian as opposed to anyone else on the planet tweaking something to make it what they want. I get the whole idea of leaving it be but if we want to go there then tell Target to quit saying, "Happy Holidays" every CHRISTMAS time.

I get that the seriousness of the advent is lost in times like this but was this a particular atmosphere for seriousness? Are we any less annoyed when we hear pc versions of "appropriate" holiday music? I would love to hear "Joy to the World" but I'm afraid it's not tweaked but mass culture it's just thrown out all together.

Hairline Fracture said...

I don't like the false dichotomy between "sacred" and "secular"--and the belief that everything secular is wrong. It's not--it's just not sacred. There's nothing wrong with Jingle Bells!

Jen said...

Apparently Dillyn is taking back Jingle Bells for Ballet. She sang "dancing through the snow."

Sue said...

There is just something creepy about that whole situation.

There is nothing wrong per se about borrowing a well known tune. We have a Bible memory CD that uses the Jingle Bells tune with one of the verses: "Give thanks in, give thanks in, all circumstances...". It's not that bad, really. At least for kindergarteners. OK, the rest of the CD is great, so I let it slide.

I have awarded you. Come see if you don't mind that sort of thing. I like reading your blog.

Beck said...

The need of some Christians to Christian-up everything is sort of creeepy - like those yard statues of Santa kneeling and weeping in front of baby Jesus.

Zanshin said...

Arg. Just arg.

But wait - if we don't "take back" the secular holiday songs first, someone else will! (That goes for Hanukkah songs too!)

Of course, we could do it right. Take a common folk melody, write up some actually quality Christmas lyrics, give it about 450 years, and it sounds awesome.