I always enjoy reading Andrew Ferguson. In the current Weekly Standard he writes about "Jingle Hell: The debasement of Christmas Songs."
.... In the early church, Christmas replaced the baptism of Jesus as the preeminent celebration of the season because it stood as a happy rebuke to the Manicheans. Believing as they did in the absolute division of spirit and matter, no group of heretics has ever been gloomier. The celebration of Christmas was a way of telling the world: This really happened, to a real mother and a real child, made in flesh and blood, the coming together of God and man. And music itself is the natural expression of the union of spirit and matter, the physical act of plucking strings or hammering keys or thrumming vocal cords to produce something that points beyond the physical. ....Jingle Hell | The Weekly Standard (probably behind a subscription wall)
The idea of Christmas as a musical celebration finally took hold when peasants and other lowly folk began adapting local dance tunes to the purpose. The origin of Christmas music in dance music is worth remembering. The tunes, outfitted with words of praise and the appropriate narratives of Jesus and Mary and Joseph, of the Three Kings and the shepherds, were an effusion of popular piety—and a rebellion against the grim impositions of church hierarchy throughout Germany and, later, England. 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:
The tree of life my soul hath seenDeamer traced the word “carol” back through old French to the Greek word for “an encircling dance.” Movement and dynamism and joy were the essential attributes, inseparable from the religious meaning. The message of Christmas was the Christian message, too: the Light coming into the world and the darkness proving powerless against it. What’s not to celebrate? Why not dance?
Laden with fruit and always green
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.
“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.” ....
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. When Oliver Cromwell’s Puritans seized power from a pious English king, one of their first official acts was to ban Christmas observances of any kind. ....
“Yule tide is fool tide,” went the Puritans’ dismissive slogan.... And once in a while, at Christmas, buried in tinsel and credit card receipts, a practicing Christian might be tempted to agree. It’s a familiar human paradox that the phony good cheer of secular Christmas increases even as the genuine joy of Christmas recedes....