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Car crash Christmas carols
Innocents like king, man, son, virgin and Lord – they've all been slaughtered to make carols more modern and inclusive, says Steve Goddard. Read about those theologically-modified, politically-corrected festive verses currently wrecking Christmas services worldwide, and see the results of our vote for the worst PC carol.
We've all noticed the "new" words, grimaced, tried to remember what the original lines were, shaken our heads in bemusement, and politely carried on singing. Theologically-modified carols will ring out everywhere this year. Innocents like king, man, son, virgin and Lord have been slaughtered to make carols more modern and inclusive. In some cases, entire verses have been re-written.

It's a subject that has readers of Ship of Fools venting many a sanctified spleen. Dalej42, from Phoenix, Arizona, expects to encounter an "ecclesiastical train wreck" at church this Christmas. "Of course, half of the congregation will still sing the familiar words, while the rest will stumble over the new versions," he says.

Similarly, Lady in Red, from Paris, told us: "At our church, the people who really refused to sing these Abominations Unto the Lord™ were the younger ones. We felt insulted by the insinuation that old-fashioned words were too hard for us to understand. The over 70s sang the 'real' words as well – from memory. Meanwhile the 40 to 50-year-olds in the middle bravely soldiered on from some warped sense of duty and would have preferred to be singing the old words, too."

After a couple of years, defeat was conceded. "Nowadays there is a printed bulletin with the traditional words," reports Lady in Red. "A magnificent victory for people power."

"Jesus wasn't hermaphrodite"

So what is the fuss all about? Which key words have become the touchstone for pew protests? And which new versions do you most want to see the back of? In some revised versions of
O Come All Ye Faithful, the phrase Glory to the Christ child, bring replaces Glory to the newborn King. And O come in adoration is sung in preference to O come let us adore him.

"I can't figure it out at all," bemoans shipmate Pine Marten. "Some people don't want to mention dreaded words like
king. I don't agree with this view, but what's wrong with O come let us adore him? Is it too gender-specific? Jesus wasn't hermaphrodite, neither was he a girl. I don't see the problem."

At a post-Christmas service a few years ago, shipmate Margaret encountered a massively-bowdlerised version of
Joy to the World which began: Joy to the world, for peace shall come, let this be our refrain! "It continued for three verses," she recalls, "avoiding all reference to Jesus but exhorting us to exult in the coming of a whole clutch of abstract nouns."

Rossweisse contends that the worst change is to the carol
Brightest and best of the sons of the morning, which has been changed to Brightest and best of the stars of the morning. "This not only looks stupid in the third line – Star of the east, the horizon adorning – but it also ignores the fact that the phrase has echoes in Isaiah and Job," she explains.

Chorister is puzzled about changes to
God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen. The original words, This day is born a Saviour, of a pure Virgin bright, have been changed to To you is born a Saviour, in David's town tonight. "Is this careful avoidance of Mary being a virgin?" asks Chorister.

Victorian sentimentalism

Mockingbird has problems with the re-working of Wesley's classic,
Hark the Herald Angels Sing. "The change of Born to raise the sons of earth to Born to raise us from the earth was presumably intended to make the line more inclusive," says Mockingbird. "I think it has the opposite effect. Born to raise us could be taken to mean 'born to raise us nice elect Christians only, and tough luck on all those reprobates'. Raise us from the earth sounds like neoplatonism, suggesting that the earth is some icky place we need to get away from, rather than a good work of God."

Scott Knitter reckons the
New Century Hymnal "gets rid of anything that makes light seem preferable to darkness (some might think this extends to skin color, presumably). I've always assumed this is why the last verse of Once in Royal David's CityWhen like stars his children crowned, all in white shall wait around – is often cut out entirely."

Another take on the same carol is suggested by Cottontail. The line is changed in one new hymnal to
Where his children gather round, bright like stars, with glory crowned. "One of the editors of the hymnal reckons the original line is an outdated piece of Victorian sentimentalism," explains Cottontail. "It was appropriate and comforting in an age when child mortality was high and most children would have experienced the death of a sibling, but is less relevant now."

See the results of our Christmas carols vote... and to
discuss the issues raised in this feature, join the discussion here.
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