Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


Why no new Christmas carols?

We're still singing songs from the nineteenth century. Why nothing newer?

By John Kehe/ Staff writer / December 12, 2012

Street carolers in Shamokin, PA.

Mike Staugaitis/The News-Item/AP

Enlarge

A familiar exchange heard in American living rooms these days: "Hey kids, let's all gather around the fireplace and sing songs from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries!"

Skip to next paragraph

Looking up from their texting, the kids exclaim in unison: "Yea! Let us go a-wassailing!"

OK, maybe not – but you get the picture. People have been singing the same old Christmas carols forever.

Ever wonder why?

Historically it's been nearly impossible for a new Christmas song to break the impenetrable monopoly of "Away in a Manger" (1885); "The First Noel" (1823); "Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful" (1743); "Silent Night" (1818); "Deck the Halls" (1862); "Jingle Bells" (1857); "We Three Kings" (1857); "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" (17th century); "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" (words 1739, music 1840) – all still caroling favorites.

Of course, to be fair, there are "new" ones, such as "White Christmas" (1942), "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" (1934), and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (1948). Those are only 60 to 80 years old.

So why aren't there any brand-new Christmas songs to sing?

Christmas comes but once a year. And every December folks haul out their ancient collection of raggedy ornaments and faithfully festoon the tree with them. Like these nostalgia-coated collections of ornaments, the old familiar carols trigger fond memories of good times and shared ceremony. It would take a very special new song to break into that tight circle.

It can happen. Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You" (1994) seems to have slipped into the canon. It gets plenty of radio (and shopping mall) play. And it's featured annually in the newest holiday classic movie "Love Actually," which adds to its luster and exposure.

But the powerful music business engine that pushed holiday hits by gifted songsmiths out of Broadway's Brill Building onto radios and phonographs in every home is long gone. Now it's a digital free-for-all out there.

It's anybody's guess where and when the next great yuletide song will come from. But isn't that what folks love about this season – to be taken by surprise?

Permissions

  • Weekly review of global news and ideas
  • Balanced, insightful and trustworthy
  • Subscribe in print or digital

Special Offer

 

Editors' picks

Doing Good

 

What happens when ordinary people decide to pay it forward? Extraordinary change...

Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Danny Bent took on a cross-country challenge

The athlete-adventurer co-founded a relay run called One Run for Boston that started in Los Angeles and ended at the marathon finish line to raise funds for victims.

 
 
Become a fan! Follow us! Google+ YouTube See our feeds!