I love Christmas carols. In a typical year, I start listening to Christmas music by October at the latest, just to make sure I can be sure to enjoy it fully by the time Christmas actually rolls around. So it makes me sad that we have space for only 14 Christmas hymns in our hymnal. It’s not a big surprise, given that it’s not a lengthy hymnal1 to begin with, but it’s still unfortunate.
I thought it might be an interesting exercise to consider which of the 14 I might be willing to give up, and which ones I might like to add to take their place. Perhaps I’ll even think of an extra few to add in case we one day get a super-sized hymnal.
Here’s what we’ve got in the hymnal now:
Joy to the World
Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful
Angels We Have Heard on High
Once in Royal David’s City
Away in a Manger
It Came upon the Midnight Clear
O Little Town of Bethlehem
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
With Wondering Awe
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks
Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains
The First Noel
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
This isn’t adding or removing entire hymns, but I would be happy if we could sing “Heaven and nature sing” in “Joy to the World” instead of “Saint and angels sing.” When I was growing up, I remember hearing my mother complain that the Mormon version sounds overly exclusive, and I think she’s spot on. “Heaven and nature” sounds vast; “Saints and angels” sounds like a little club of self-satisfied people patting each other on the back for being more righteous than everyone else.
But as far as whole hymns go, I could stand to drop “Once in Royal David’s City.” I haven’t heard that much outside a Mormon context, so it doesn’t really signal Christmas to me. Ditto for “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” It expresses a great sentiment, but the music isn’t that interesting, and I only ever hear it at church. I know that “Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains” is a Mormon hymn, so of course it should also be tossed by this criterion, but I have a soft spot for it because I remember singing it a lot for primary Christmas programs as a kid.
Most of the rest, I love. “The First Noel” is one of my favorites. Also “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” although it would be nice if we could clean up some of the gender exclusive language (“Born to raise the sons of earth”? No thanks.). Even the ones where I’m not particularly taken with the music itself, like “Silent Night,” are so associated with Christmas in my mind that I love them anyway.
Here are some Christmas carols that I wish we could add to our hymnal:
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
Good Christian Men Rejoice
I Wonder As I Wander
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Were You There on That Christmas Night?
I am particularly fond of the melancholy and contemplative tone of “I Wonder As I Wander,” and the longing of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Even if whoever selected hymns didn’t like these two, though, because they’re outside the norm of what we expect for Christmas hymns, I think the first two would fit perfectly in an all-upbeat mold.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. What hymns would you choose to have added or taken away?
1. The 341 hymns in our hymnal pale in comparison to, for example, the five most popular hymnals on hymnary.org, all of which have at least 600 hymns.