Don’t Mess With My Carols

(from the archives)


I had a hissy fit on Christmas Eve.  In  the candlelight service.  Fortunately, my husband was the only observer and he managed to keep me under control.

We were at our folks’ church, singing from their hymnal, the New and Improved one.  I was already mildly miffed at the alterations in the lyrics when we started singing O Come All Ye Faithful.  When the second verse began “Highest of highest” instead of “God of God” I just stopped singing, now indignant. 

Someone had ruined my favorite verse!  I started jabbing at the hymnal, thumping the spot where in tiny letters were the letters alt.  My husband, who missed my meaning but understood my emotion, shrugged and in a sign of solidarity started poking his finger at the hymnal too, but not in the right places. Which made me snort but didn’t diminish my disgust. 

“Alt!” I hissed. 

“Alt.”  he echoed.  Whatever alt. meant, he was together with me on it. He didn’t ask “Alt?”.  He firmly said Alt. but the required passion was missing; there was no corresponding hiss.

“They ALTERED the text.” I further hissed. “It’s as if Athanasius never lived.”   


We went back to singing choirs of angels.

At the next carol, he jabbed the alt. before the organ had finished the introduction. Good Christian Men were not rejoicing; Good Christian Friends Rejoice.  In protest, I cheerfully sang “Good Christian men“, all three verses.  I have no patience with gender neutral humankind nonsense.  Please.

With each new carol it became a race between us to see who would thump the alt. first.

We heard the tune of Lo, How a Rose Eer Blooming, without noticing the title was, Lo, How a Rose is Growing

This was no alt.: this was a completely new translation. 

I’m sure that Gracia Grindal’s translation has much to recommend it, but you know–you know!– how hard it is to sing or recite a verse in a different translation than the one you memorized as a child, the one firmly lodged in your brain.  There was a sense of disorientation.

Away in the Manger came through unscathed: evidently the Little Lord Jesus (my nephew–decades ago–said Yittle Yord Yesus) could sleep on his bed.  We ended with lovely unaltered carols Silent Night and Joy to the World


19 thoughts on “Don’t Mess With My Carols

  1. I hate that, too. I also hate it when they only do one verse – or the dreaded “We’ll sing verses 1, 2, and 4.” Don’t they realize that every verse is needed to tell the story?Carrie

  2. Heh. I had one of those moments on Christmas Eve, too, when the version of “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” we were using at our service said “…offspring of the favored one” (or something like that). I went ahead and sang “offspring of the virgin’s womb.”

  3. Yep, that would infuriate me.  Everything’s gotta be all poltically correct these days…and in the process we end up with neutralized nothingness.  The churches in our denomination rarely sing hymns…and tossed the hymnals altogether.  I’m not sure which would be worse…messing with the words or tossing them….it all makes me sad.  I’m with you…..Don’t mess with the Carol’s!

  4. Nothing worse than messing with what’s worked for centuries! I found something in our hymnal, which I’ve missed for years because I’m reading the notes to play rather than the words to sing, but caught the corrupted version of Away In A Manger this year, it ends “to watch lullaby! OF ALL THINGS! What’s wrong with “Till morning is nigh?” Fume! So, I understand and support your hissy fit! You go girl!

  5. Oh, Carol, my sister and I laughed so hard!!! You write so well, and I can just see Curt there next to you, it’s all just hilarious. Seriously, though, the thing that irked me quite a few years ago was when one Bible translation changed “swaddling clothes” to “strips of cloth.” That just ruined it for me, because my grandfather, and then dad, read the Christmas story every year. My sister insisted that my dad read the KJV every year after that. I agree with you, by the way. Love, Melanie

  6. Our church picked up some wonderful *old fashioned* hymnals for a song (pun intended!) when another church was updating to the gender-neutral version.  I’m with you on this one.  It rather nauseates me to hear the new-fangled interpretations.

  7. I love your passion!  How did you manage to keep it, much less grow in it, all of these years?? (not a reference to age, but in deference to and awe in it)  I am struggling with dispassionate people in a traditional church. I love the tradition but am feeling strangled without passion. In their own way they would probably say they are passionate.  Passionate about how things are arranged on the table, and who cleans up after dinners. etc.  But the things that MATTER.  Like the fact that our church isn’t growing.  Let’s get on our knees and cry out to God TOGETHER!  but no. we get together and calmly pray. And the one who ends up in tears looks like a silly wreck who can’t keep her emotions in check. At least we got together and prayed. I’m  really struggling to not lose who I am in the quietness of propriety and tradition. If you have any suggestions please give them!  

  8. You know.. here’s the thing. The Mona Lisa REALLY would look better with blue eyes, wouldn’t she? I mean, the only people who can REALLY appreciate her are brown-eyed people. I’m sure all the non-brown eyed people are really offended by her. Let’s change her eye color so that less people will be offended, huh? Because I know people have a hard time knowing that this piece of art is for EVERYONE, not just those who SPECIFICALLY ARE NAMED in it.Hymns are what I do professionally, and they’re what I love personally… and this generation of worshippers is being dumbed down by their alterations, lied to by their gender-inclusiveness, and robbed by the way they’re being thrown out of churches in general.CAROL you hit a nerve, can you tell!?!?! Well, as Wesley said – ‘veiled in flesh the Godhead see/hail th’incarnate Deity/pleased as man with men to dwell/Jesus, our Emmanuel’and I’m VERY certain he said it to me as well as to my husband. And I didn’t need it to be changed from ‘men’ to ‘us’ for me to believe it.Merry Christmas, day 3!

  9. @KC_SAHM – Oh, sweetie, I don’t know you but I understand completely. I am in a similar situation, in fact our minister announced from the pulpit that he didn’t CARE about those who weren’t growing. It was shocking, and we as a church aren’t growing. But when your minister feels that way, how can we grow? We have services that feel like lighthearted church camp lessons and when someone, usually me, points out that we need to do something, we’re met with apathy and defeatism. It’s disheartening, but at this point we don’t feel called elsewhere so I know God has me and my DH where He wants us. I am praying for my church family and I will add yours to the prayers if that’s OK with you?

  10. @KC_SAHM – I’m not sure how to respond to your comments.  It sounds like your situation calls for the twin virtues of patience and hope.  I’m assuming you can express your passion about the state of the church to your husband?  If so, then you are not alone. If not, you can passionately care about it in your prayer life.  Continue to ask God to work: He will answer your prayer.  Ask for a kindred spirit to come alongside you.  Don’t be surprised if your answer comes from an unexpected source.  (((hugs)))   

  11. Thank you for (both of) your encouragement!  I will keep praying.  I can go to my husband and our pastor is a wonderful man so I will try to remember that. Along with remembering that I need to wait on the Lords timing. Thank you again.Kcaarin

  12. Reading through this has brought back memories!! The Lord HAS been working in me and in our church!!  He has brought in some more passionate people as well as ripping off some of the scabs of indifference from the people who’ve been there forever. There is still work to be done but I can rest in the assurance that we are where God wants us and there is great beauty in the traditions my children are learning. Thank you for your prayers!! God is so good. All praise and honor and glory to His name. Merry Christmas! Kcaarin

  13. I can so relate! And it’s not just the carols; it’s so many other hymns as well. So frustrating! What I don’t get is, how is it that “they,” whoever they are, think they have the right to alter what someone else wrote? Wouldn’t there be an outcry if someone set out to “alter” Dickens or Tolkien or Shakespeare? The Merchant of Venice, alt. Just doesn’t seem right, does it?

  14. I do the same thing you do, Carol: I just go ahead and sing the “wrong” words despite what the hymnal says.  And I like to say “catholic” instead of “Christian” in the Apostles’ Creed.  It’s my way of protesting the silliness.

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