Wednesday, December 19, 2007

1984 + 24

Christmas purged from popular holiday song
Choir teachers opt for more ‘inclusive’ lyrics
One of the most popular Christmas songs is getting a slight retooling by an Ottawa elementary school choir so as not to offend any students.

The teachers leading the Elmdale Public School choir — made up of Grade 2 and 3 students — have dropped the word Christmas from Silver Bells and replaced it with the word “festive.” So, when the choir performs the song Thursday at a singalong assembly, instead of singing the line “soon it will be Christmas day” they will say “soon it will be a festive day.”…

…The other songs in the musical program are Candles of Hanukkah,
Candles of Christmas; Pere Noel and It’s Christmas generally reflect the
feelings about the holiday season, as well as the themes of Hanukkah and
Christmas, she said. “The choir teachers are trying to be as inclusive as they
can be because not everybody is celebrating either Christmas or Hanukkah,” said

The initiative for the lyric change came from the teachers and was
not something imposed by the school board, she said. “They (teachers) wanted
to have a song that emphasized the holiday spirit, so they just changed the
Silver Bells song to reflect a more generic flavour.”

This is alarming not only because I value the spirit of Christmas (see last weeks blog) but as a parent and a thinking member of society I find it frightening how easily words, ideas even history can be changed.

Modern technology makes it possible to alter a photograph and change the text of a book; tools that allow anyone to change history. That is scary. Like many others I read the book ‘1984’ by George Orwell and at the time it seemed so ridiculous and impossible. But with every new technology this fiction becomes more real.

What are the limits? If school teachers are allowed to change a song to make it more generic what stops the changing of classic literature to make it more pleasing to the masses? What stops the altering of classic works of art? What stops the changing of the history books?

Books are being replaced with E-Books, schools are moving towards paperless teaching, society is becoming vanilla in the name of pleasing everyone; the ideals of Orwell’s novel seem less foreign every day.

What can be done? I don’t know. I do know I will do my best to stay informed and aware of what my kids are learning. I know I will hang on to books, real paper books, especially the ones of my grandparents with print dates in the 1800’s. And I will question decisions such as the one made in Ottawa, and question those with the power to make these decisions.


1 comment:

Chris Drost said...

In good faith:

They didn't change the song in any official capacity; they just opted not to sing the word "Christmas," and, in its place, sing the word "festive." That isn't anything like the 1984 dystopia, and I hope you can recognize it. In a world where many different cultures must interact, people will try to be appealing to cultures *other* than the vanilla Christian culture -- and there is no harm in that.

Let's put it this way: If they had called it "A Festive Day," instead, made the change in words, and insisted that it should be thought of at a wholly different song from the original Silver Bells, would you still feel so passionately about it? I'm sure you would -- else your problem is just with the name, and not with the substance.

But where does *that* end?

Must all new holiday songs mention Christmas, then, too? I'm sure you'll say "No, that goes too far." But then, what are the limits? Does the restriction go only to those new songs which plagiarize old songs? And how much is plagiarism?

More to the point, would you rather them sing Silver Bells without the word "Christmas," or would you rather they find some other completely-secular song, like Deck The Halls, which speaks of the pagan festival "Yuletide" rather than the Christian festival "Christmas"?

The question "where does it stop," you see, goes both ways. To prevent 1984, where we err, we should err on the side of individual freedom: and it seems that this means erring on the side of the choir teachers, rather than on yours.