Season after Pentecost, 2023
It's Christmas time. And what better time to take a look at the Christmas hymns in The Hymnal 1982? In particular, we will be looking at the less commonly sung hymns in the Christmas section.
First, some context. The Hymnal 1982 is the official hymnal of the Episcopal Church and has been since, well, around 1982.
There are 39 hymns in the Christmas section. There are 12 days of Christmas. That's 3.25 hymns per day. Compare this with Advent, which has 24 hymns. This year, this only provided one hymn per day. Epiphany is even worse, depending on how you look at it. Again, there are 24 hymns, but the time after Epiphany is often much longer than Advent.
So, why so many Christmas hymns?
Well, people love Christmas. And people especially love singing "carols" at Christmas time. (I'm using the word hymns to refer to the pieces of music in this hymnal, but yes, surely many of these also count as carols). So perhaps the demand is greater, and it is prudent to include more.
But what has prompted this little study is that there are hymns in the Christmas section that I have never sung.
I am a professional church musician, and I have never sung these hymns. Not even on my own. I am not aware of others singing them either.
This is a puzzle. Why aren't they sung? Are we missing something? Should we be singing them? Are others actually singing them, and we just don't know about it?
Let's attempt to rank these hymns according to their popularity. And I mean man-on-the-street/woman-in-the-pew popularity. Since I haven't surveyed anyone I'm just guessing here, and I'm surely way off in a few cases.
I'm guessing about how "well known" they are: how much they are in institutional memories, and to what extent there is an actual practice of these hymns being sung in Episcopal churches during Christmastide.
So we're not talking about congregational singability (a couple of these hymns are a little suspect), we're just talking about hymn and tune recognition. In some cases, the tune can boost the "popularity" of a hymn when it is familiar from another context.
I'm using a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being the least popular and 10 being the most popular. On this scale, we can crank it up to 11 for hymns which are unbelievably popular.
Let's get started, shall we?
But people really do come just to sing this hymn, surely. And lighting a candle has become part of the package.
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