Thursday, December 04, 2008

Nothing Against Santa Claus, but ...

Every other Tuesday morning I lead the preschool chapel service at the church. This past Tuesday, two classes arrived in the sanctuary a bit early, and we were singing some random Christmas songs while we waited for the third class to arrive. The kids were calling out songs and I was playing them on the piano and we were all singing along. It was great.

We sang a couple, and then a kid called out “Better Watch Out!” So we sang “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and I must say that they all sang out loud, and many of them seemed to know every word. When we got done there was still time for one more, so I played the intro to “Away in a Manger” and started singing the first verse.
None of the kids – NONE – even recognized the song, let alone knew it well enough to sing. I immediately realized my mission of the season – teach the preschool kids “Away in a Manger.”

I realize that I risk sounding like an old guy complaining about “kids these days,” but it actually kind of upset me that none of the kids even recognized “Away in a Manger,” but knew “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by heart. There were probably 35 or 40 kids in the room. Surely one of them would have known it. I understand that each kid has experienced at most 4 Christmases in his or her brief life, but I would have thought at least a few of them might have sung “Away in a Manger” a time or two.

But the point is not just that they don’t know many Christmas songs, it is also that they knew the Santa song really, really well. So somehow in their four Christmases on earth they managed to learn that one. I’m not trying to blame anyone for anything here, just to make an observation.

And also to claim a personal mission. Every ordained clergy person in the United Methodist Church makes a promise “to teach the children” wherever we go. So a part of mine is going to be teaching kids sacred Christmas songs every year. I think I’ll start with “Away in a Manger.”


EyeRytStuf said...

You know, I don't remember church being a big part of my life when I was VERY little, so I'm not sure how I got to know some of the less-Santa-y songs by heart at a young age.

I am of no help in your quest...

On a related note, I'd spent years being upset tha tmore students didn't learn patriotic songs in elementary school--I remembered learning so many...

Then I remembered that in 1976, I was in third grade, so of course the focus was patriotic songs.

Not the same would apply in your case... just a related thought.

Soulfari Administrator said...

Andy, my favorite Christmas song when I was a kid was "Go Tell it On the Mountain". There was a tradition in my church growing up where the kids would go through the sanctuary singing this song every Sunday of advent. It is a joyful and fun song and it is simple in it's message of Christmas. So I say you teach the kids THAT one! The Weres miss you!!

Soulfari Administrator said...

Andy, that was me, Sarah, that wrote that last comment.

Patrick Moore said...

Baby Jesus promises me I'll have no where to lay my head, and that I am blessed when others revile me. Santa brings me slinkys and silly puddy. No contest there.

Anonymous said...


I understand your concern, but I wouldn't worry too much. Remember your audience...preschool children! My best guess is that we are talking about 3 and/or 4 year olds. Chances are that kids this age are exposed more to "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and "Jingle Bells" via preschool programs at home, daycare, tv and videos than "Away in a Manger". You have far greater knowledge about music etc, but those tunes are catchy, upbeat, and easier to recall for kids that age is my guess.
Secondly, again just guessing here, those tunes appear more secular and thus receive more general play than the more "sacred" Christmas songs. Perhaps our society's trend towards emphasizing Winter Break, Happy Holidays, etc instead of "Christmas" has had the unintended result of us not cherishing and teaching the sacred Christmas songs.
I applaud you mission. Perhaps one day, "Away in a Manger" and/or other sacred Christmas songs will be one of their favorites!

Joseph, father of 4: ages 10,9, 6, and 3!

Anonymous said...

I realize that I risk sounding like an old guy complaining about “kids these days,” but it actually kind of upset me that none of the kids even recognized “Away in a Manger,” but knew “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by heart.

Ha! Resisting is futile; welcome to the dark side! As I tell my mom: "I used to fight The Man. I'm not sure when it happened, but now I am The Man"!


Kory Wilcox said...

Patrick said basically what I was going to say, but he did so with subtle wit.

Danny Boy said...

I feel this way when I shop during the holiday season. Everywhere you go there are Santa songs or winter songs but hardly any Christmas songs (especially places that only play songs recorded in the last few years).

Honestly, I have to say that I have probably heard my share of Christmas songs already in my life. I say this because not only do we start hearing them at stores in October, but also because I have been involved in hundreds of Christmas music programs where every conceivable arrangement of "Jingle Bells" has been performed. Therefore, if it isn't a Christian song, I refuse to sing/perform it anymore. It just is too much pain in the brain.

[rant]Lastly, since when are songs that have to do with snow or cold weather only reserved/observed pre-Christmas? I love the song "Baby, It's Cold Outside" but you don't here it except before Christmas. I want winter songs taken off the Christmas playlist!!![/rant]

~Danny Boy

sparklesax said...

You go boy!

Now I'm off to make a non-secular play list for my 20 month old to program his "memes" in something more than what Sprout TV (and Barney) teach him.

Although, on Sprout TV today Elton John (wearing funky star glasses and polka dot pajamas, tyvm!) did a cameo of Crocodile Rock for Bob the Builder's Christmas Special. It was toe tapping and rather catchy. Better than Santa Claus is coming to down, IMHO. Do you think you could work that song in for the preschoolers come the new year? ;-)

Seriously, I hear you. I'm always troubled by church Christmas programs ending with a big to-do about Santa Claus coming in and all the adults being more giddy over the man in the white beard than over the baby Jesus. If WE aren't teaching them how cool baby Jesus is, then Santa will always win their hearts first. (see Patrick Moore's comment)

But then again I'm selectively orthodox. Come on, I just said Barney the purple dinosaur and Bob the Builder were OK and Santa wasn't. Clearly I have some issues.

On another note, it crossed my mind today that Obama stole Bob the Builder's catch phrase for his campaign. Or at least the 2nd part of it: "Can we build it? Yes we can!"

Do you think Sprout TV is numbing my brain too much? I asking knowing the answer.

BTW: "Away in a Manger" was the bedtime song *I* requested my mom sing to me when I was a small child. All three verses. Today I can't be in the same room with her and sing it without bursting into tears. Very special one, very special. Perhaps it's the parents who need to be singing to their children...

Martin said...

Having attended a "contemporary" church for a few months, I'm guessing not many "comtemporary" churches play many "traditional" Christmas songs to a beat/tune that "older" (?) folks who grew up in a Methodist church would feel comfortable with. "Santa Claus is coming to town" hasn't been "contempor-ized", so everyone knows the familiar tune, regardless of age. But I applaud and commend you on your mission, Andy -- I think it's great to try to keep one foot in the past while reaching for the future.

Anonymous said...


This morning while taking my older three to school, bored with listening to my selection of ESPN radio, they started singing Jingle Bells. Afterwards, my ten year old daughter requested that I tell mommy to retrieve the "Barenaked Ladies" rendition of Jingle Bells because it's really cool. (Meanwhile, I was trying not to hyperventilate because she said "barenaked ladies"!) Thinking of your post, I asked if they knew Away in a Manger. They did and proceeded to sing it, but faltered toward the end of the second verse. I was relieved and proud of them. On there own they followed with Silent Night, Oh Little Town of Bethelehem, and another sacred tune that escapes me now.
Not a scientific study, but an encouraging sign I hope, from my "focus group".


Anonymous said...

I think this is the dilema (Did I spell that right? Sorry if not) for all of us parents of young ones. Maybe try Silent Night or Oh Holy Night...those get lots of radio play and little kids might know those songs. I know we're having a time balancing the religious with the secular in our house (the four year old will not win, we make her tell us the true meaning of Christmas almost everytime she talks about Santa, nothing against Santa, but you know). I feel your pain!

Corrina Stanfield

Anonymous said...


That is so interesting because Isa, now 5, brought the sheet music to, "Away in the Manger," home to practice for singing at Christmas Eve Service this year with their Pre-K - 2 choir. I guess that our choir director may have adopted your same opinion.

Merry Christmas!

Shelly :)!

Anonymous said...

At our church today, the children's Christmas program consisted of about 40 or 50 kids, dressed like shepherds, magi and angels, singing several traditional carols - singing them very well and with 2-part harmony. Very simple, nothing fancy. It touched us all and I for one am delighted that this bunch of kids will know forever the words of these Christmas favorites. Let the church get busy and teach what needs to be taught. And that might include putting the old familiar words to new, more upbeat music - after they learn the "real" tunes! I don't have to worry about being perceived as old because I feel this way because I am old!

Love, Mom