“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go…”
These magical lyrics startled me awake the morning after Thanksgiving. My sister’s phone played this song by my ear as a way to say, “It’s Christmastime, sissy!” This has become our tradition—waking each other up with a favorite Christmas tune as a sort of processional into the season.
When I ask my friends, “What’s your favorite part about Christmas?” the resounding answer I receive is “the music.” Bells jingle everywhere we turn: in the stores, in our cars, in our homes. When you think about it, Christmas is a unique period of the year when singing in public places is encouraged for adults and children alike. I think we favor the music because it fills our souls with the warm fuzzies.
As lovely as it is to listen to Nat King Cole by a fire, in reality, Christmas is not about savoring cozy moments. It is not about being entertained.
It is about worshiping a King.
These celebratory weeks should be used to adore the Savior who is Christ the Lord. Christmas is a chance to remember how Christ came to earth to rescue people from their sins. That’s a little different from what most holiday tunes tell us.
Because we live in a culture that worships things instead of Christ, it is easy to forget to refocus our hearts on Him at Christmastime.
And children are especially susceptible to buying into the messages pitched at them. Stories of snowy days, Santa Claus, and Grandma getting run over by a reindeer comprise the culture’s narrative of Christmas. Unless parents remind their kids that celebrating Christ’s birth is the point of the holiday, the materialistic world will convince them of something else entirely.
Listening to traditional Christmas hymns is one way to remind your children of the beautiful, gospel-centered purpose of Christmas. Here are a few ways to do this with your family:
1. Change the radio station. We get into the habit of singing “Joy to the World” at church, but 50 minutes later we revert to Michael Bublé and Mariah Carey in our cars on the way home. There is nothing wrong with most secular Christmas music. In fact, I sincerely enjoy it. But we must also remember that what we allow our ears to hear makes an imprint on our thinking.
I usually have a song playing round and round through my head, sometimes from the moment I wake up. So the songs I choose to listen to matter.
If I want to change my mood, I know what can help. While listening to “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” does not plant worldly messages in my mind, the reminder to adore Christ within the lyrics of “O Come All Ye Faithful” is more valuable.
When you have the opportunity, play holiday music that speaks of Christ. Try making a game of learning a new Christmas song a week with your little ones. Songs as simple as “Away in a Manger” plant images into the hearts of children of Christ as both a baby and the One who fits us for heaven. Turn off the children’s Christmas music playlist for a little while.
2. Listen to the lyrics. Growing up listening to historical Christmas songs with my family has given me a stronger appreciation for the work of Christ. The writers of the time were intent on expressing the marvelous power and work that came of the Incarnation.
Admire the lyrics from “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
This single stanza proclaims that Christ is not dead, that His life brings peace, and that through Him good prevails over evil. It sings of His justice and His peace.
Beautifully crafted lyrics, which musicians have uniquely and melodically stitched together, instill a sense of awe for Christ’s coming. “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” in contrast, teaches me nothing of God’s gift to the world.
Throughout my childhood, my family annually whipped out our stack of Christmas CDs. We listened to artists like Steven Curtis Chapman, Michael W. Smith, and MercyMe. Different from much of the repetitive songs on the radio, this music is laden with hope and truth.
My family does not often talk about the lyrics, but one of us often lets out with a satisfied sigh, “I love that one.” Listening and singing to rich Christmas songs with my family has repeatedly impacted my worship during Christmastime.
3. Expose your children. You might be thinking, My kids are too young to understand what these lofty lyrics mean. Why bother if they will not understand?
Perhaps you are right. Five year olds probably do not know what it means for “God to impart to human hearts the blessings of His heav’n.” But just as you read books to children to increase their reading comprehension, exposing them to significant ideas and phrases in hymns will increase their understanding of spiritual truth as they grow.
For example, observe the third verse of “O Little Town of Bethlehem”:
How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming;
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him, still
The dear Christ enters in.
In just 44 words, this stanza communicates the true hope of Christmas: Christ was given to enter human hearts. Your children may not understand the meaning of the lyrics as they understand those of “Frosty the Snowman,” but familiarity will eventually cultivate comprehension.
And when your kids ask what a song means, you have an opportunity to explain it in ways they can understand. Listening together may lead to meaningful family conversations.
So change a few habits this Christmas. Find ways to expose your children to meaningful Christmas hymns. Play them in your home. Play them in your car on the way to school or church. Host a Christmas caroling party. Choosing to listen to Christmas music that speaks of more than romance and snow will help to keep your family’s focus on the gospel this Christmas.
A list of favorites
Here are some of my favorite Christmas albums. These are available on streaming services like Spotify. They’re also for sale on iTunes and Amazon.
Steven Curtis Chapman: Joy; All I Really Want; The Music of Christmas
Michael W. Smith: Christmastime; It’s a Wonderful Christmas; Strings of Christmas
Amy Grant: A Christmas Album; Home for Christmas
MercyMe: The Christmas Sessions; MercyMe, It’s Christmas!
Casting Crowns: Peace on Earth
Point of Grace: Winter Wonderland
Sara Groves: O Holy Night
Rend Collective: Campfire Christmas (Vol. 1)
The Brilliance: Advent, Vol. 1.
Vince Guaraldi Trio: A Charlie Brown Christmas
Manheim Steamroller: Christmas in the Aire
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Looking for help or inspiration this Christmas? FamilyLife offers several resources to help your family focus on Christ during your Christmas celebration. The Ever Thine Home® Christmas collection includes ornaments and other decorations help you honor Christ and proclaim your faith. The 12 Names of Christmas™ ornaments are designed to help you teach your children about Jesus is and why He came to live among us. And in When Christmas Came, Barbara Rainey reveals the substance of Christmas in poignant prose and vivid watercolors.