Sacred music a rarity in a secular dominated world

Dear Editor

I am not much of a big box store shopper, but six days after Remembrance Day 2020 I went into one to look for a certain item.

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Well, well. “Joy to the World” was blasting over the sound system. The Lord is come?

I couldn’t find the item. I left. No joy to the cash register from me.

Christmas morning 2019, I walked into the kitchen and turned on the radio to a CBC Saskatchewan station. What did I hear? “Here Comes the Sun.” Yes, sun. With all due respect to the musical talent of The Beatles, I nevertheless turned off the radio.

About the second week of Advent 2020, I heard a radio announcer say, “If you’re tired of Christmas music ...” What Christmas music? All I’d heard were so-called country and western with performers using a redneck Texan language.

“Mah wahf and ah ain’t gunna see each other nomo and it’s all ona count uf you.”

I ask you, what real Canadian cowboy talks like that? I’ve known quite a few of them and the favourite music of the toughest one I’ve ever known was classics and opera. So, there!

Thank goodness for radio station CJRB Winnipeg for glorious music; my musical featherbed, all the time.

(The “new” television set has been gathering dust in a corner for a long time now. I don’t miss television, and I vowed not to have it installed until I’m no longer able to see Donald Trump on it. Whenever will that be?)

I doubt there’s much sacred Christmas music written anymore. The sentimental ones started in the 1940s, such as “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” then the goofy ones like “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer” to “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” (the tree itself being a permanent fad with the lights originally candles, being a light to the world) and so on.

I suppose “Do You Hear What I Hear?” is a modern sacred song, but I draw the line at “Little Drummer Boy.” It seemed to be on every radio station.

Mary (to herself): “Enough already. I wish I’d never nodded! The ox and ass are restless, the baby can’t sleep. If I could just ask Joseph to gently suggest to that tiresome drummer boy that the road to Herod’s palace is just around the corner.”

Nowhere has the idea of Christmas been revamped more than in the United States. Under Puritan rule, Christmas was banned. Next it became an excuse for gluttony and drunkenness and people locked their homes and stores against unruly mobs

Somehow, a poem by Clement Moore, the son of an Anglican bishop, helped to change that. He did not write about Jesus nor Mary, but he produced “The Night Before Christmas.” He turned famous historical future Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, St. Nicholas, into Santa Claus, the jolly old (large) elf and he’s been with us ever since, complete with flying reindeer.

And it wasn’t long before he was commercialized. One of the first times was those huge cardboard Santa Claus figures drinking Coca Cola, now collectors’ items.

And so Christmas Day has changed. It is now called, by the media, the holiday season. I thought that was in July, when the children were out of school and families would go away for a holiday. So, no longer a holy day, as it once was so long ago, but a holiday. Actually, to the Christian church, Boxing Day is a holy day, observing the life and death of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, who was battered to death with stones for daring to believe in Christianity.

At one time here, people would go to skate on the open rink at the schoolhouse on Boxing Day and perhaps call on a neighbour. Then there was the Boxing Day dance in Waseca. There were still many farm residents and young people would come home for Christmas, so the dance was a huge reunion. Now no one wants to see the neighbours and a certain number of people go away for Christmas. Besides, who dances anymore?

And Boxing Day? It’s Sale Day; buy, buy, buy. As Stompin’ Tom says, we must go, and: “Save a lot of money spending money we don’t got.”

I forgive Tom his double negative. He was fun and he put them there for a reason.

So, Christmas morning 2020 I didn’t expect much. But I wonder if our national broadcaster had received complaints, because I had a musical feast. No “Drummer Boy,” but Handel’s “Messiah,” starting with the tenor solo, “Comfort Ye My People.”

As I sat there in my own “bubble” enjoying an English Christmas breakfast, I soaked it up. I happened to be standing at the kitchen sink when the Hallelujah Chorus was sung so I was already on my feet to observe the custom started by King George II. Years later, someone said it probably wasn’t a case of awe that made the monarch stand, but a case of gout forcing him to ease a leg. Well, I’m sure the king had to endure some ridicule at times, but nothing like the nasty campaign today to malign Prince Charges. And 100 years after that time, Queen Victoria determinedly struggled up out of her wheelchair for the stirring chorus.

This Christmas Day production included the Easter section of “Messiah,” which includes the solo my mother was often invited to sing in church, “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth.”

In the 1990s I was the soprano soloist for a production of Messiah in North Battleford, conducted by Sheila (Pratt) Osborn (oh, the talented Pratts). My sister Eileen was in the chorus, which came from far and wide. If the other soloists are still with us, happy New Year to you.

Back, to 2020; “Messiah” was followed by Queen Elizabeth’s thoughtful message.

But Boxing Day from our national broadcaster? Well, Jesus’s birthday was celebrated on the 25th but forgotten on the 26th. It was back to Ma Wahf and Ah. Oh, I like country music. I admire Dolly Parton, but why do Canadians not want to sound like Canadians? Ian Tyson managed to do so, as did Wilf Carter.

But two or three private radio stations realized Christmas comes but once a year and played sacred music for several days.

So, how shall Christmas evolve again? I’ve often said we might as well call it All You Can Spend, All Ye Can Eat Day.

We are told to donate to the food bank so people can have a Christmas dinner. I find that rather depressing, because it infers that the other 364 days can see people stave to death all on their own and everyone else is so busy they won’t notice.

I recall the days of Christmas concerts in small towns and one-room schoolhouses, where there was often more talent than is publicly touted today. There was indeed Christ in many of the items, but with pressure from minority groups, Christ was removed from Christmas concerts. Oh, they never could have done so in those small villages or one-room schoolhouses, but they are all gone. In those days, children and adults could sing all the verses of Christmas carols by heart.

There are new traditions, however, which aim to feature the Christmas spirit and teach us. Take the Grinch, for example. What do we learn from reading the Grinch story? Don’t wear tight shoes.

Christine Pike


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