Sacred vs. Secular: Do They Know It’s Christmas?

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My back against the wall, facing a firing squad of my most opinionated pals, I boldly pronounced my last words:  “No one should play Christmas songs, neither on the radio, nor on Spotify, nor even on your own iPod until jolly old Kris Kringle has passed in front of Macy’s, ending the Thanksgiving Day Parade.” Then and only then have we entered into the High Holy Days of Consumerism. 1 To play Christmas songs before that moment is an affront to all that is held sacred in secular culture.  Secular blasphemy, isn’t that rich?

Christmas Music Wrapping

Wrapping christmas presents (in music). Flickr image by Rennings.

Who cares? Why not let them start after right after Halloween?  Maybe we should wait until the beginning of Advent?  Or maybe (for those with serious holiday fortitude) we may be able to hold out all the way to Christmas Day itself? What are the proper criteria?  Teasing out rational, universal principles from your own arbitrary opinions can be a lot of fun (provided you are among friends and there is a open bottle of wine). And in hashing out the proper time to start playing your December playlists, we might just find some clues to what you consider holy and sacred.

On mine, I’ve separated the vapid, cheesy Christmas songs from the ones that have more potent meaning in my life.  I’ll avoid traditional carols and hymns until a few days before Christmas.  I consider them special and sacred, worthy of the wait, in need of the right timing and a special unveiling.  But there are some songs that are so bubblegummy that they just  seem perfectly appropriate for the ridiculously early celebrations of the High Holy Days of Commercialism. I won’t even hesitate to hit up the absurdly self-important Band Aid hit “Do They Know It’s Christmas” well before Christmas Day.2 This means no “Joy to the World” until Christmas Eve, and “O come O come Emmanuel” is reserved for Advent.  But “Santa Baby” and “All I Want for Christmas is You“? I’m not gonna fight anyone over those, queue ‘em up at will.

Home Alone Movie Poster

I made my family disappear…

Despite the divisions, the sacred/secular divide isn’t insurmountable.  I’ve carried tunes across the gulf before.  One particular John Williams Hollywood hit is sacred to me. “Somewhere in my Memory” – the enchanting, haunting theme from “Home Alone” – still brings tears to my eyes.  For me, that song brings back childhood memories of tender moments watching that movie at my cherished and now deceased grandparents’ house. It takes me back to the odors and oils of cheesecake pies and midnight masses on the west side of Cincinnati. The song has been baptized, it’s sacred now.

What will you hold sacred in this highly commercialized holiday season?  Is there any order or reason behind the Christmas songs you will queue up on your playlists this December? Which songs are sacred and which songs are just secular?  Have you baptized any secular hymns and carried them across the gulf?  We definitely need to hear from you.  We’ll be posting a new cherished Christmas Song from the TJP staff and readers each day through Christmas.  We’ll let you know who suggested it and whether they think it’s sacred or secular or somewhere in between.  What songs should we include? You can use the comments section, send me an email [email protected] or send me a tweet @sunnydsj.

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Check Out The Jesuit Post Christmas Playlist

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  1. I define the The High Holy Days – yes, sarcastically – as the intensely commercialized buying frenzy that kicks off on Black Friday and builds to the fever pitch of last minute gift shopping on the weekend before Christmas. See “Jingle All The Way” for any required video evidence. I’ll do my best not to make this a ‘reason for the season’ rant.  You’ll get enough of those from other places in the next month.
  2. Seriously Bono? “Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you…” I know you’re an intense dude and you’re raising money for a good cause, but WTF?