On the fifth day of Christmas

Posted by on Dec 28, 2007 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

12_carol_singers_1930_c766_b5110

…we had a little sing-song.

Actually round here the singing started a month or so ago, with a peak on Christmas Eve at an old school Carol Service in Hampstead. The church was packed with kids and Mums and Dads and sulky teenagers (who wanted to be there but at the same time wanted to be anywhere else on this earth but with their parents and younger siblings). But the enthusiasm of the congregation (note not a passive audience, like too many church services) was infectious and everyone joined in (often in ways and at times that the patient vicar would rather us not)

And then young James (12) pointed out how odd the words are to the the carol we were singing (“We three kings…”). It occured to me that I’d never really thought about the words to this one (even though I’d sung it hundreds of times as a child). In fact, as I sung it, I recalled that I’d always imagined it was about Kings of “orian Tar” (still not sure what that meant/s).

Have a look at the words of the carol below: the first verse sets the scene (3 wisemen on their way from somewhere over there, following the star), the second verse is about the gift of golds for kingship, the third about franckinscencebut the fourth is all really unseasonably gloomy (myrrh for the tomb to come).

In between each verse and irrespective of the verse just sung, there’s a rollicking old chorus about following the star which sounds very…um…rustic! . More public house than “no room at the inn”. And 7 and 8 year olds love it just as much.

We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain
Following yonder star

O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to thy Perfect Light

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to rein

O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to Thy perfect light

Frankincense to offer have I
Incense owns a Deity nigh
Pray’r and praising, all men raising
Worship Him, God most high

O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to Thy perfect light

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes of life of gathering gloom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb

O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to Thy perfect light

Glorious now behold Him arise
King and God and Sacrifice
Alleluia, Alleluia
Earth to heav’n replies

O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to Thy perfect light

Rev John Henry Hopkins

All of which served to highlight for me the relative importance in our religious rituals of singing (together) and the words sung: are Christmas carols more social object than message delivery systems?

How comfortable is the Church with its use of Enthusiasm Marketing?

Or do both Marketing and religious practitioners think differently about what they do to propagate their Faith from how it really works?

5 Comments

  1. John Dodds
    December 28, 2007

    Not sure you’re highlighting religious participation here but rather pointing out how people attend carol concerts for non-religious reasons. Historically, church attenders knew the words to hymns and understood them because they were performing an act of rleigious devotion. Today carol services and especially midnight mass seem to me to be more about the event than the original purpose idea.

  2. Mark Earls
    December 29, 2007

    While you may be right about the motivations for attending carol concerts I think I disagree with the underlying challenge to religious practice, J.
    Having spent a large part of my childhood and teenage years either singing or assisting in religious services, I’m not sure I really grasped much of the theology contained in the words of the carols, hymns or prayers; rather it was the participation that counted more. If that’s true for such as me, then what about the “less committed” practitioners (or shall we call them “light/occasional users”?)?
    I guess the big thing here is that in creating “believers” practice and participation are much more important than thinking/processing messages. And that’s what a social object is for…

  3. John Dodds
    December 29, 2007

    So you’re suggesting that “unthinking/unquestioning” religious faith can be replicated in brand loyalty? Interesting.
    By the way did you get my email before christmas?

  4. mark Earls
    December 29, 2007

    Hi John.
    Now you know I’m allergic to “brand loyalty”…and would never suggest that anything worthwhile is like it.
    I think the important bit is not the bit that happens between the ears but the bit evidenced in what we do.
    As you well know 😉
    Thought email great. Will interrogate when Alex & I get back together after the break. Thanks, mate

  5. John Dodds
    December 31, 2007

    If you can get Alex to buy into it – I think you’ll like the follow up email even more.