Schmaltzy, saccharine, sinister? A guide to the worst Christmas carols

I enjoy Ding Dong Merrily on High, but disapprove of my own enthusiasm. And don’t get me started on We Wish You a Merry Christmas …

Last night I sang in a carol service, many people together indoors, exhaling an anxiety-inducing whirl of aerosols. Was it sensible? I’m not sure: we did our LFTs, but you never know. Could I resist? Absolutely not. Living abroad, I would become deeply melancholy at this time of year if I couldn’t sing carols. I’m not religious, but something about, I suppose, the very precise way they conjure a nested sequence of times and places always moves me. There are French-language Christmas carols but they never gave me the intense, heart-swelling nostalgia I get from those I grew up with. I mean, one of them is called Quelle est cette odeur agréable, “What’s that nice smell”. Surely that is something you would ask on entering a kitchen where a delicious cassoulet is cooking, not a stable to adore the Christ child?

Although I was delighted to do some proper Christmas singing at last, when the running order was circulated, I started pulling Scrooge-like faces and making sour comments, determined to check the gift horse’s molars. I have opinions on carols. Lots of them.

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