I’m always curious to hear what people think about music in the Church, particularly in recent years with the forthcoming new hymnbook. Usually this time of year is insanely busy for me—with the bell choirs that I’ve been a part of, ward Christmas parties and programs, etc., around now I’m used to an endless series of rehearsals and performances of Christmas music. This year has been much more quiet, but both Christmas music and the recent update on the forthcoming hymnbook and children’s songbook have still been on my mind. As such, I’d be interested to hear what is on everyone’s wish list for the Christmas sections of the new music collections of the Church. What Christmas hymns and songs would you like to see included and why? Are there other changes with the Christmas music of our hymnal or children’s songbook that you think should happen?
I’ll share some of my wish list while I’m at it. There are several Christmas hymns that are currently included in Latter-day Saint hymnals outside of the English language one that I would love to see be included in the new hymnal. “Sing We Now of Christmas,” “He Is Born, the Divine Christ Child,” and “What Child Is This?” stand out among them for me. I also would not object if “Stars Were Gleaming” (or the older text associated with the tune, “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly”) migrated from the children’s songbook to the hymnal. And, of course, there are a number of Christmas songs that I would enjoy having in the hymn book of the Church, such as “Sussex Carol” (“On Christmas Night”), “Go, Tell It On the Mountain,” and “O Holy Night,” among others. And, to be honest, there are a couple hymns in the current hymnal that I could do without (I don’t care for “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” or “With Wondering Awe”).
The biggest change I would like to see, however, is to include at least a couple Advent carols and songs in the hymnal. Advent is not universally embraced or even known within the Church, but it has been discussed by Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf and some members with exposure to more traditional Christian churches or cultural areas will know about it. My personal opinion is that it would be worthwhile to include a few Advent songs, both to provide greater exposure and opportunities to celebrate Advent in the Church and to embrace those cultural areas that have a stronger tradition of celebrating Advent (the Nordic countries and central Europe, for example). These might include some well known songs (like “O Come, O Come, Immanuel,” “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” or “Sleepers, Awake!”); some that have already been published in Latter-day Saint hymnals or other Church publications (“Watchmen! Tell us of the Night” from the 1841 Nauvoo hymnal, “Advent” from the Swedish children’s songbook, “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” in the Swedish hymnbook, and “Come, Lord Jesus” from “The Savior of the World” musical performed at Temple Square stand out to me in that regard); or even some lesser known ones (I’m fond of “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” and “Comfort, Comfort You My People”). You could say that having a couple Advent songs may prove advantageous to the Church.
The children’s songbook is honestly where I see the most room for improvement when it comes to Christmas. There are 17 Christmas songs in the current English edition. Of these, there are three that I truly love (“Samuel Tells of the Baby Jesus,” “Stars Were Gleaming,” and “He Sent His Son”) and three more that I like (“Away in a Manger,” “Mary’s Lullaby,” “Picture a Christmas”), while the remaining 11 songs either fall into the categories of being completely unknown to me or songs I don’t particularly care about. There are a few songs from the Church’s current non-English children’s songbooks that I wouldn’t mind to have included, such as “Star Bright,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “What Child is This?,” the Czech song “Carol of the Shepherds,” and (as mentioned above), “Advent.” And there are other pre-existing Christmas songs like “A La Rue” (“O Sleep, Dear Holy Baby”) or “O Come, Little Children” that I think would work in our children’s songbook. So, those are my thoughts and wish list for Christmas music in the Church music collections moving forward.
As far as what is likely to happen, there are a few things that I suspect. I think that the Christmas section of the hymnbook isn’t going to see dramatic changes. There are 14 Christmas hymns in the English hymnal, and of these, 8 seem to be in the core 100 hymns that are required in almost every hymnbook the Church publishes (“Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Away in a Manger,” “Joy to the World,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful,” “Silent Night,” “Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains,” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”). It’s highly likely that at least those 8 will be included, if not all 14 that are in the English hymnal. If any of the 14 do get dropped, based on the SingPraises.net survey of how frequently hymns are sung in sacrament meeting, “While Shepherds Watched their Flocks,” was sung least frequently, followed by “Once in Royal David’s City,” “It Came upon the Midnight Clear,” and “With Wondering Awe.” As what seem to be the least-used Christmas hymns, these four are probably most likely to go to the chopping block. All told, however, there are 48 Christmas hymns included in Latter-day Saint hymnals that are not in the current English hymnal, and it is very likely that at least a couple of these will be included in the next iteration for the worldwide church. Of these, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” “Fair Is Creation” (AKA “Beautiful Savior”), “O Ye Joyful People,” “What Child is This?,” “He Is Born, the Divine Christ Child,” and “A Babe is Born in Bethlehem” are included in multiple translations (5, 5, 3, 3, 2, and 2 languages for these hymns, respectively). My guess is that these six hymns are going to be the top contenders for being added to the new hymnbook’s Christmas section. The children’s songbook is a bit more of a wildcard to me (partly because I’m less familiar with that as a topic compared to the hymnals), so I don’t have much in the way of speculation there. Regardless, we still have a few years before we get to see what happens to both the hymnal and the children’s songbook.
Now that I’ve rambled on about Christmas (and Advent) music, sharing my wish list and speculations for the forthcoming music collections, I’d love to hear yours. As asked above: What Christmas hymns and songs would you like to see included and why? Are there other changes with the Christmas music of our hymnal or children’s songbook that you think should happen?