Christmas carols are the favorite worship songs of many worshipers. But, they are generally sung during a very few weeks in worship. We used to depend on the schools to teach them to the children, but that no longer happens. Indeed, I listened to a podcast in which three Lutheran seminary professors suggested that in order to “save our heritage of Christmas carols” we need to find ways to include them in Advent worship. So, choose Advent-Christmas hymns carefully and plan to do more than just sing them.
Ø Walk through them with the congregation before singing them. Put key words or phrases into your own words and point to the message of the carol.
Ø Choose songs with simple choruses that can be rehearsed with the whole congregation before singing so that young readers can join in the singing.
Ø Sing the songs in different ways to call those familiar with the song to really hear what they are singing and to help younger singers understand the psalm. Several, such as “Watchman Tell Us of the Night,” beg for responsive singing.
Ø Replace generally spoken parts of worship with verses of carols.
Ø Lace sermons with references to the carols – even directing worshipers to open their hymnbooks to review a given carol. If you are comfortable doing so, sing a phrase or two. If you are not a public singer, enlist the help of the choir, a soloist, or the whole congregation to sing a verse or a chorus before or after your comments in the middle of the sermon.
Many of these can become children times just before a congregation hymn, but they are best addressed to the whole congregation.
A couple of specific suggestions
“Angels We Have Heard on High”
Even non-readers can be invited to sing all the long, drawn out, fun to sing Gloria’s in the chorus.
“Away in the Manger”
Older children consider this a baby song and are often embarrassed by being asked to sing it with other children in the sanctuary. So have a young children’s choir sing it or invite worshipers of all ages to sing it together.
“Go Tell It on the Mountain”
The chorus feels like an Epiphany message, but the verses tell the story of the shepherds. So, it can be sung twice - on Christmas and again in Epiphany.
“Infant holy, Infant Lowly”
This less familiar carol has easy, concrete vocabulary. It would be a good choice to introduce in a children’s time, then sing with the whole congregation.
“O Come All Ye Faithful”
This carol is sung so often that we count on children learning it by osmosis, but it is not easy for children to grasp. To help this process along, review, even practice, just the chorus before singing the whole carol.
“Once in Royal David’s City”
In many churches with children’s choir programs, it is the children’s job to sing the first verse of this carol to begin Christmas Eve worship. The rest of the congregation sings the remaining verses. Sometimes a whole choir sings, other times children are selected and consider this a great honor. With its simple story of Jesus growing up, this is also a good opening hymn for worship on December 30 this year.
The First Nowell”
This song is a good candidate for a children’s time in which the word “Nowell” and its other spelling “Noel” are defined as “good news!” The verses can then be read asking “who is the good news for in this verse?” (Answers: the shepherds, the wisemen and us.) And, there is an easy repeated chorus that reinforces the word Nowell.)
For children (and even most adults) this carol is all about the feeling communicated in the music. The ideas in the words are not all that significant to children. They learn to sing the carol with adults who sense both love the song and love singing it with them. Just watch the adults smile and draw their children close to sing this song together.
“We Three Kings”
Once you get past the silly “We 3 kings of OrientAre (perceived as the name of one place) tried to smoke a rubber cigar…” older children enjoy working through the significance of the gift each king brought. This is conversation can be a good children’s time for Epiphany.