Why no new Christmas carols?

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

Mike Staugaitis/The News-Item/AP
Street carolers in Shamokin, PA.

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!"

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?

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