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The Noises of Christmas

Like most other Americans, I’ve spent a few weeks listening to Christmas carols. Walking through most public places, they’re unavoidable. In airports, shopping malls, and even on main streets with external loudspeakers, merchants are blasting more holly jolly than ever in the hopes that it will provoke people into spending money.

As I listen to the carols this year, something has occurred to me: Carol writers seem obsessed with the noises of Christmas – or, perhaps, the lack of noises.

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?

The thing is that none of these songs can agree on what the sounds of Christmas night were. Some say it was silent – Silent Night, while others say it was noisy – Hark the Herald Angels Sing.

Which was it? Many of these songs can’t even keep their stories straight. In Silent Night, for example, one line talks about how heavenly hosts sing hallelujah. Well, that’s not very silent, is it?

O Little Town of Bethlehem first declares, How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given… No ear may hear his coming, but not a minute has passed before the song contradicts itself, with We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell.

What Child Is This, the Christmasized Greensleeves, manages to express this indecision within a single line: The silent Word is pleading.

Quiet loudness? Loud silence? Maybe that explains how Bill O’Reilly and his ilk can claim that there is a War on Christmas while the songs of the holiday are actually being blasted out for 2 months straight every year.

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