Posts tagged with: christmas

OK, this is going to be a tough call. But Acton Research Fellow Jordan Ballor has bravely stepped up with his nominee for the “Worst Christmas Song Ever” in a piece for Patheos. His pick? Band Aid’s syrupy “Do They Know it’s Christmas?” Ballor reminds us that the song …

… was released in 1984 as part of Band Aid, an effort organized by Bob Geldof in response to a famine that struck the east African nation of Ethiopia. The song certainly captures the spirit of the season, as its charitable aims are noble enough. The problem, however, is in how these good intentions are translated into word and deed. The song describes Africa largely as a barren wasteland, “Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears.” It continues in this vein. Africa, the onetime breadbasket of the Roman Empire and home of the Nile River is a land “where nothing ever grows, no rain nor rivers flow.” The title question likewise plays into the supposed desperation of the continent. The only “Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom.” The response to this call is supposed to be charity from the affluent West, to “feed the world” and thereby “let them know it’s Christmastime again.”

In this depiction of Africa, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” perfectly encapsulated the patronizing approach to international development that dominated the twentieth century and is still largely with us today. On this account, rich people in Europe and North America have a duty to help those who cannot help themselves in Africa, a place destitute not only of material resources but also spiritual and intellectual assets as well. As development economist William Easterly has argued, this attitude evinces a kind of tyrannical neo-colonialism, where the power, knowledge, and wealth lies entirely with the “First World” and those in the developing world are reduced to a kind of vassalage.

Agree with Ballor? Give us your pick for the worst Christmas song ever in the comment boxes below.

carolerAs Christians living in a secular age, there’s a temptation to use Christmas as a wedge to wage epic new battles to restore Christendom.

But despite the flurry of hackneyed “War on Christmas” tropes, there is, alas, something rather amiss. Though the battlefront may not be a petty replacement of “Merry Christmas” with “happy holidays,” society is obviously devoid of a true understanding of the season, diluting a celebration about the invasion of heaven to a shallow idolatry of tradition for tradition’s sake.

Yet, as Andrew Ferguson reminds us, despite its best efforts, culture cannot, and indeed, doesn’t want to escape the “true meaning of Christmas” after all. In many ways, Ferguson writes, alluding to G.K. Chesterton’s famous words, it’s impossible to live in a post-Christian age.

Some things can’t be undone, and chief among them is the Light that was lit the first Christmas morning, while choirs of angels sang above,” Ferguson writes. “It can be ridiculed and parodied, satirized and scoffed at, obscured and sentimentalized, but it won’t be extinguished. So even a secular age continues to go through the motions, singing the same songs, sometimes the old songs, without quite knowing why.

And those songs — they bring such revelation and power, wherever they find a welcome set of lungs. (Yes, wherever.)

It is with Christmas music, Ferguson argues, that we see the Christian witness endure at its finest, not via an antagonism of tacky cultural kitsch, but through an elevation of the true and serious joy of Christ:

A good carol, said the great musicologist Percy Deamer, “was witness to the spirit of a more spontaneous and undoubting faith.” The effusions were organic, growing from the bottom up, and like the Gospels themselves, filled with metaphors taken from field and hearth…

…To take life”—and hence Christmas—”with real seriousness is to take it joyfully,” Deamer went on. “For seriousness is only sad when it is superficial: the carol is thus nearer to the truth because it is jolly.” The opposite isn’t necessarily true, by the way. “All I Want for Christmas Is You” [by Mariah Carey] might be described as jolly; no one would describe it as serious. “Joy to the World,” on the other hand, is both. A Christmas carol is meant to liberate us from phony seriousness and phony good cheer.

In the past that lesson has often been lost, at times even more thoroughly than in our own day—a reminder that should cheer us up, if you’ll forgive the expression. The serious joy, or the joyful seriousness, of Christmas is offensive to the grim Christian.

Carols offer a profound example of cultural engagement done right, shining a blinding light that, by virtue of its truth, goodness, and beauty, welcomes a lost world even as it wages war against hell.

Thus, as we worship and magnify Jesus this Christmas season, let us avoid petty battles against petty gods, whether of blind consumerism or nostalgic knick-knackery. Instead, let us exude and share the serious joy that comes from being a child of the living God. Let us simply sing, and sing of Jesus.

And let earth receive her King.

Friedrich Hayek once called intellectuals “professional secondhand dealers in ideas.” And the Preacher proclaimed, “There is nothing new under the sun.” So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising when ideas, memes, and other cultural phenomena pop up again and again.

There is, however, a notable correspondence between an Acton Commentary that I wrote earlier this month, “The Worst Christmas Song Ever,” and a piece that appeared weeks earlier at The Federalist. In “‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ Is The Worst Christmas Song Ever,” Leslie Loftis takes down this miserable tune in devastating fashion. Loftis points out that the song “has a little of everything to loathe. Condescension. Inane inaccuracies. Smugness. Mullets.”

Whether or not you have read my commentary, you should go check out her case against the song now.

I first noticed the song, which heretofore had been background Christmas muzak, when we screened the new documentary Poverty, Inc. earlier this year at the Acton Institute offices. That film includes a section discussing “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

Matthea Brandenburg helpfully points out some further commentary by Magatte Wade and others about the song over at the PovertyCure blog.

When Christmas rolled around, I had the idea to write something about the song, and connected it with William Easterly’s analysis of the differing perspectives on development offered by Gunnar Myrdal and Hayek. But I now think that even though I hadn’t read Loftis’ piece, I had seen the title before I wrote my piece. In fact, I checked Ben Domenech’s excellent email newsletter The Transom, to which you should subscribe, and there on December 3 is the following: ‘“Do They Know It’s Christmas” is the worst Christmas song ever. http://vlt.tc/1qf7

No doubt I saw the link, and got the idea for calling it the “worst ever” into my head. Then some days later I connected it to the Poverty, Inc. clip and wrote my piece. So the idea for calling this the worst Christmas song ever must be credited to Loftis and The Federalist. I’m sorry that I didn’t realize that Loftis’ piece had already appeared, or I would have pointed to it earlier, and given credit for the idea straight away. So in the interests of disclosure, I certainly haven’t been the only one to criticize this song or even to call it the “worst Christmas song ever.” I guess I’ve got egg(nog) on my face. The variety of voices that find the song problematic, however, should be a indication that there’s something rotten in “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” It is, after all, a song that includes a toast like this: “Here’s to them underneath that burning sun.”

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” is like a bad earworm that won’t go away. And now I really, really hate that song!

Members of Band Aid in 1984

Members of Band Aid in 1984

In last week’s Acton commentary, “The Worst Christmas Song Ever,” Jordan Ballor touched on the well-intentioned yet harmful message shared by “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” the 1984 song produced by the music group, Band Aid, in response to the famine that struck Ethiopia.

Ballor describes the context and some of the song’s lyrics:

The song describes Africa largely as a barren wasteland, ‘Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears.’ It continues in this vein. Africa, the onetime breadbasket of the Roman Empire and home of the Nile River is a land ‘where nothing ever grows, no rain nor rivers flow.’ The title question likewise plays into the supposed desperation of the continent. The only ‘Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom.’ The response to this call is supposed to be charity from the affluent West, to ‘feed the world’ and thereby ‘let them know it’s Christmastime again.’

The song perpetuates an image of Africans as helpless and dependent on outside assistance to support their well-being. It is true that dire situations exist and increased awareness and emergency aid is needed to prevent loss of life, outbreak of disease, and other severe conditions. But overall, do negative depictions serve to accurately portray people in the “developing world,” and their capacity for producing innovation and change in the areas in which they live?

This is the question I pose in the PovertyCure blog article, “The Hopeless Results of Graphic Poverty Imagery,” which highlights the 1984 Christmas Song and similar versions that have been produced since.

I argue that depicting Africans as incapable and destitute ultimately neglects their true nature as human beings. Though it is true that poverty exists in some corners of Africa (and this should not be ignored), a vibrant, energized environment can be witnessed in many others. There are thousands of entrepreneurs like Senegalese entrepreneur, Magatte Wade, who are establishing creative solutions and finding new markets for business and trade.

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Blog author: johnteevan
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
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nativity1We know how God approached mankind: the surprising incarnation as a baby at Christmas. But how ought we to approach Him? Here is a wide range of 14 ways we often try, along with a benefit for each:

  1. Love the right things and you will find your way home to God
  2. Think the right things and you will know the sovereign God
  3. Believe the right things and you will live at peace
  4. Obey, obey, obey and you will not go to hell
  5. Withdraw from the world and you will know God best
  6. Keep these sacraments and you will be part of the kingdom of God
  7. Feel the right things and you will be blessed in your spirit
  8. Follow these steps and you will prosper
  9. Serve the Lord your God by serving people and you will honor God
  10. Once you have suffered enough you will know God
  11. Meditation is the path to knowing God
  12. Go with the culture and God will go with you
  13. There is no God, but there ought to be one, so I’ll “believe”
  14. We are all God’s children so let’s be nice to everyone

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Blog author: ehilton
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
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Parents spend a lot of time and money trying to get their children what they want for Christmas. The list written for Santa is poured over, gifts are wrapped, stockings are stuffed.

But are you giving your child what she really wants? IKEA Spain wants us to think about our children’s wish lists a bit differently.

In the latest video blog from For the Life of the World, Evan Koons offers Christmas greetings and a few timely reminders with his usual dose of humor.

“He made himself nothing to be with us.”

Indeed, by entering the Earth in human form, nay, in infant human form, born to the house of a carpenter, Jesus provides a striking example of the order of Christian service — of the truth and the life, yes, but also of the way. (more…)