A well-done study of 21 of the carols that help us remember many of the themes that surround the Christmas holiday. Rather than taking a devotional perspective (like those done by Robert Morgan), the author has chosen to apply an academic approach as he introduces us to the hymns.
The “Introduction” serves to help us understand the role Christmas carols play in Western society - including a look at their historical, theological, and denominational backgrounds. The introduction is a broad picture of what will come later as the author looks at the individual hymns.
The bulk of the book takes the reader through a group of 21 hymns in Biblical order - beginning with a hymn appropriate for use during all of Advent, moving through the days leading up to Christmas proper, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, the angels, the shepherds, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” and Epiphany. The final hymn is “Jingle Bells.” As can be seen the author includes both examples of secular songs and those with a more spiritual tone (e.g. “Away in A Manger,” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”) The roots of the words (
Biblical or not) and the music are explored. Some of the stories associated with the music or words are full of as much mystery as a good Sherlock Holmes tale - with the true nature of their origins hidden till some unexpected source brought them to light. Though the focus is certainly academic, there are hints of devotional thoughts. For example, as he concludes his look at “While Shepherds Watched”, the author notes that “... the full richness and variety of its history will, like the shepherds, have to wait.”
Over the fifteen years I have served in the pulpit, I have occasionally taken my congregation through the history and
setting of the church’s hymns. As I read Gant’s look at the Christmas carols, I am considering doing a similar series for the carols of Christmas. I expect it might be fun to look at the stories behind the carols as we have done with hymns in the past.
This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions expressed are my own.