Now we go a-caroling — Christian education at home

After the hustle and bustle of Advent and Christmas Eve services, most congregations take a decidedly simpler approach to the worship service that falls on the Sunday after Christmas.   Many of us have enjoyed these laid-back services, as they are often filled with familiar Christmas carols.

Since many of us are not worshipping in person, we’ll miss this wonderful tradition.  But — that doesn’t mean we can’t create a version of it to enjoy at home with our children!  This week’s at-home lesson gives your family a chance to not only sing some of your favorite carols, but also to dig into the theology, history and personal meaning of these songs.

Begin the time with your children by talking about the role of singing in the church.  Ask your children to think about times when they have enjoyed music in church.  These may come from worship services or more informal gatherings.  Share that singing is one of the ways we talk to and with God.  Note that there are many instances of people using music to celebrate God’s love in the Bible.  If you’d like to share a few of these with your children, you can read aloud passages about singing that are important to you or you can share any of these: Psalm 147:1; Psalm 33:1-3; Psalm 96:102; and Isaiah 55:12.  Encourage your children to notice how music is used to communicate with and about God in each passage.

Next, create a list of your family’s favorite Christmas carols.  Encourage them to think of songs that say something about God or Jesus’ birth.  If you have younger children who may not be familiar with many traditional carols, you can select a few favorites of your own to focus on.  After putting together the list, pick a few that you’d like to spend some time exploring and learning more about.

For the rest of your time together, “play with” the carols you selected.  Here’s a few ways you can dig into their meaning and use their words as creative inspiration:

  • Listen to several different artists or choirs perform each carol. There are great video recordings from many churches and professional choirs on YouTube.  Talk with your children about how particular voices or approaches to the song make them feel.  Discuss what versions make the song come alive.
  • Record your family singing a favorite carol and then share it with other family members and friends from your congregation. You may even want to include a little blurb about why this carol is important to you and your children.
  • Learn about changes that have been made to a carol’s lyrics over time. Many older carols have morphed as they have been used in different denominations or settings.
    The website Hymns and Carols of Christmas is a wonderful resource for exploring the many versions of popular carols. Scroll through the alphabetical list of carols to find one of your family’s favorites. Then read the iterations of its lyrics.  Talk about which version is most meaningful to your children.  If your children are older, you can ask them to speculate about why particular words or phrases may have been changed.
  • Learn about the history of beloved carol. Many traditional Christmas songs have fascinating backstories.  You can find out about a few of them at Interesting Literature and in(courage).
  • Go on a God scavenger hunt within your list of carols. Print out the lyrics of the songs that your family selected.  Then read them aloud asking your children to notice each time the song says something about God or Jesus.  Pause when you reach one of these points and talk about what the song is saying.  Discuss how the view of God presented in the carol fits (or doesn’t fit) with what your family believes.
  • Have your children create a visual interpretation of a carol. Gather up a variety of art materials including paper and crayons or markers.  Tell your children that you’ll be playing a particular carol several times while they make a piece of art.  As they create, they should use the song to help guide them.  They might want to draw a scene from the song, use colors that fit with the way they feel when they listen to it or simply make whatever pops into their heads while listening.

JOELLE BRUMMIT-YALE is the director of children’s and youth ministries at Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  When not at the church, she can usually be found at home with her son and husband caring for their many animals and developing their family homestead.