Sunday, December 25, 2016

More realistic Christmas Carols

Merry Christmas!  I hope everyone is enjoying this joyous season.   

One aspect I love about the holiday season is the singing.  However, I have to admit that it bothers me how unrealistic Christmas carols are.  They paint some romanticized picture of Jesus’ birth wherein Mary does not break stride or even a sweat to deliver her baby.  They conjure images that are absent the various bodily fluids or physical sensations of human childbirth.  Yet, many Christmas homilies will emphasize the very important theological facet of Jesus being fully human.  Why then do we sing songs that omit the human realities of birth and go so far as to paint a false picture of what it was like for Jesus to be born a human child?

The lyrics to Silent Night were written by Josephus Mohr, an Austrian priest.  Let us pause for a moment to estimate how many priests throughout history have witnessed human childbirth from labor to delivery.  Let us also estimate how many current Catholic hierarchy members have ever seen the inside of a delivery room.  Were we counting on our fingers, we wouldn't need to use both hands, possibly not even all five fingers of one hand.  Suddenly, the propagation of unrealistic, romanticized, sanitized lyrics of Christmas carols becomes clear.

Let’s also pause a moment to offer some contextual information regarding childbirth since some folks reading this might also be unfamiliar with the realities of childbirth.

  • Bloody bodily fluids flow abundantly … to the point that many a modern day father who attends their child’s delivery must sit lest they faint from the shocking sight.
  • Contractions produce varying amounts of discomfort from mildly intense pain to what is called “back labor” where the child’s head is turned where its skull scrapes along the mother’s backbone with every contraction.
  • When the mother begins pushing for the ultimate delivery of the child’s head, it is called “bearing down.”  This carries similar involuntary intensity as having an urgent yet constipated bowel movement only it lasts much longer.  It is of small wonder that during this process, some mothers have a bowel movement which covers the child as it is being delivered.
  • Most women delivering their first child will experience vaginal tearing; their flesh will rip open, sometimes all the way to the anal wall.  In modern times and medical facilities, this can easily be repaired with numerous stitches that will make sitting and performing excretory functions extremely uncomfortable for several days but prevent the mother from bleeding to death.  However, in Jesus’ time, this along with other common complications are what made childbirth a leading killer of women.
  • The baby emerges covered in blood and a waxy substance
  • Nursing a child for the first time is very painful for most women.  Though the little darling you just delivered is toothless, he/she has very hard gums and chomps down on the mother’s nipples with gusto.  Many mothers will bruise on their nipples, something they likely never knew was possible.
  • Though now some of the pains associated with childbirth can be dulled, Mary did not have the benefit of these pharmaceutical marvels.

Instead of portraying these realities of the mess, pain and danger of childbirth, Christmas carols draw imagery of Mary without her veil or possibly dress ever moving out of place.  They also fail to acknowledge the physical danger into which God placed Mary by impregnating her whilst being betrothed.  In her times, betrothals occurred often when girls were quite young followed by fully consummated marriage around age of 14 or so.  Betrothal was a strong commitment as sort of a non-consummated marriage and a woman found to be pregnant by someone other than her betrothed was considered guilty of committing adultery, an offense punishable by stoning. 

As an aside, I find myself contemplating possible connections between birth control and abortion, and fixations on the Annunciation story where an angel tells the Virgin Mary she’s going to be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit which will impregnate her.  The story is often preached as Mary saying “yes” but if you read the actual scriptural text, there is no question presented to Mary.  The angel says, “this is gonna happen.”  Mary agrees but that does not seem to matter.  Her body is going to be exploited for reproduction regardless of her consent.  Herein seems to lie a foundational element of theology objectifying women by viewing them primarily as passive receptive vessels for bearing children.

Pope Francis’ annual Vatican Curia Christmas excoriation this year included his wishes for increased respect for women.  That needs to include revisiting and correcting centuries old theology which objectifies women as mere tools of reproduction.  It also needs to include stopping the dehumanizing propagation of unrealistic understandings of women’s key experiences such as childbirth.  Therefore, I decided it was a timely moment to write more realistic lyrics for a few songs associated with Advent and Christmas.  I hope you enjoy them.

Immaculate Mary II (to the tune of “Immaculate Mary”) – a song sung during Advent, especially for the Feasts of Our Lady of Gaudalupe and the Immaculate Conception
Immaculate Mary, your praises we sing
But they want women docile so turned you into a wimpy thing
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria. Ave Ave Maria

You got impregnated while you were betrothed
Though you knew you’d be stone if ever exposed
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria. Ave, Ave Maria

But you’ve been reduced to a dainty little vessel
Despite being tough as a mortar and pestel
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria. Ave, Ave Maria

“Stressful Long Night” (to the tune of “Silent Night”)
Stressful long night, holy night
Push baby out with all of your might
Vaginal tearing to thy anal wall
Lots of pain with no Demerol
Pleas for this pain to cease; Pleas for this pain to cease

Stressful long night, holy night
Shepherds quake at the sight
Blood just streams as if hacked with an axe
Holy Infant covered in blood and wax
Christ the Savior is born; Christ the Savior is born.

Stressful long night, holy night
Son of God nurses with a bite
Radiant pain from chest to bottom
Shooting pains you previously did not fathom
Jesus Lord at thy birth; Jesus Lord at thy birth

“Away in a Stable” (to the tune of “Away in a Manger”)
Away in a stable, no hospital bed
Mary labors ‘mongst critters instead
The stars in the sky are the only light
By which to deliver her baby that night

The cattle are lowing and wafting their smells
But who really notices as Mary yells
She squats and bears down and out comes some dung
Along with the baby from her which is sprung

Be near her Lord Jesus, I ask you to stay
To re-humanize her and aptly portray
Your mom as a person of strong grittiness
And not a docile vessel who simply said “yes.”


  1. Sony think the men will like this in fact i know they Wont. I agree Child birth is no Sunday Picnic. . Mary was definately no Wimp a strong. Young woman.

  2. I agree with you, mostly. But I also notice today that when a family rejoices in the birth of a child, the photos on FB do not emphasize the pain or messiness--everyone is cleaned up and smiling, though the mom often looks exhausted. Isn't there a Gospel verse where Jesus reportedly says that the pains of childbirth are forgotten in the joy of the new baby? I think there is some of that going on in these Christmas carols too that are all joyous and ignore the painful labor that has just taken place. I write this as a woman who has never been through childbirth--its pains or resultant joys--but friend tell it is is terrible, "but you forget it afterwards until the next time you are pregnant." Is that true, I wonder? Is there some natural kind of human chemical that mimic those drugs do when you have a colonoscopy--you feel everything and are awake throughout the procedure, but afterward only vaguely recall the pain and anxiety. In any case, thanks for the reality check. I'm not singing your Christmas carols in their entirety, but love these sections:

    "But you’ve been reduced to a dainty little vessel
    Despite being tough as a mortar and pestle."


    "Be near her Lord Jesus, I ask you to stay
    To re-humanize her and aptly portray
    Your mom as a person of strong grittiness
    And not a docile vessel who simply said 'yes.'"

    Love these--the focus on Mary as an agent and one tough and resilient human is what I would most like to see included in our songs. The pain of childbirth, I expect, is small compared to being made into a mostly-silent and "docile vessel."

    Thank you for your blog. It often shakes me up!

    1. I apprecioate reading your comments, Jane, and agree with them, but I feel that Jesus (and Mary and so much traditional preaching about them) has "cleaned them up" too much. Chrstianity is a messy challenge in our world today. When we are followers, we must expect the cross, in its various forms. And Mary must have been one tough cookie to go thru what she did from the angel's announcement even to her boy's crucifixion.

  3. I remember the pain of my labor but feel it was worth it. Yes, my point is she was one tough cookie.

  4. Wow! Exdcellent, excellent, excellent. Yes, the time has come to strip away undue sentimentality, look at Jesus as truly human, with all that implies. Thanks, Louise!