A Mormon Reinterpretation of a Christmas Carol

December 15, 2004 | 9 comments
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Today I heard a well-known Christmas carol, and it occurred to me that the carol’s underlying story was incredibly ahistorical. In fact, it is roughly the opposite of what we know happened. Or rather, it is roughly the opposite of what most Christians know happened.

The carol is “Do You Hear What I Hear?” It’s a popular tune, with some nice-sounding recordings. It is also exactly the opposite of the Biblical Christmas story; the major problem is the fourth verse, which goes:

Said the king to the people everywhere,
listen to what I say
Pray for peace, people everywhere!
listen to what I say
The Child, the Child, sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light.

Of course, the opposite occurred. The king didn’t say “pray for peace, the child will bring us goodness and light.” Instead, he said “that child is a threat to me! Kill him! And put to death every child of that age, just to be sure!” A pretty depressing plot for a Christmas carol, I know, but it does have the advantage of being part of the scriptural record.

But it turns out that, as Mormons, we have the unique advantage of being able to enjoy this song without having to resort to dubious history. That’s because we can offer a plausible alternative explanation: The “King” in the song is actually the leader of the Nephite people. And recall that the Nephite people did know of Christ, and did (with some exceptions) become peaceful, and look forward to Christ’s role as Saviour. Exactly as laid out in the popular song. So, unlike the rest of Christianity, we don’t need to trouble ourselves with any inconsistency, and we can rest content in our (foolish?) consistency.*

Ain’t it great to be a Mormon?

*If foolish, it is, after all, the hobgoblin of little minds.

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9 Responses to A Mormon Reinterpretation of a Christmas Carol

  1. D. Fletcher on December 15, 2004 at 11:06 pm

    Funny, I always thought the “king” was one of the 3 kings, you know, Kaspar, Melchior or Balthazar. Or perhaps Constantine.

    Never connected him with Herod the Great.

  2. Shannon Keeley on December 16, 2004 at 1:42 am

    I was just listening to this song moments ago in the car on the way home. It’s an interesting point, and over Thanksgiving weekend we were talking about other Christmas Carol song s(and the “stories” they’re based on) and wondering how many of them were historically accurate.
    For example, the song “The Little Drummer Boy.” We were watching that really old children’s clay-mation movie based on the song, and we started wondering about the origin of the story told in the song. Does anyone know if there is anything biblical or historical behind that song?

  3. Derek on December 16, 2004 at 10:02 am

    Regarding “Little Drummer Boy”

    Written by Harry Simeone, Henry Onorati and Katherine Davis in 1958 and taken from the tune of a Spanish song ‘Tabolilleros’, this religious song tells the story of a poor boy who can’t afford to bring a gift to the Nativity, except for his drum. By 1970 the 150 plus different versions of ‘Little Drummer Boy’ had sold over 25 million copies worldwide. (source)

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t say what actually inspired the song.

  4. Charles on December 16, 2004 at 10:16 am

    Kaimi,

    I always imagined the King was Jesus.

    The King said listen to what I say, pray for peace, pray for people everywhere. The lines refering back to the child is descriptive of the child. In literary terms a premonition. Looking at the child knowing his future we have a sense of what he would tell us, Pray for peace, people everywhere.

    Just a thought, but I also think it could easily be one of the 3 kings present.

  5. Matt Astle on December 16, 2004 at 11:35 am

    My opinion is that the king is symbolic. The first verse has a little lamb talking to a shepherd boy. In the second verse, the shepherd boy talks to the mighty king. Then in the third verse, the king makes a proclamation to the people everywhere. The progression from lamb to shepherd to king to people kind of symbolizes the message going from the meek and lowly to the high and mighty and all the earth. He isn’t any one specific king (when did a shepherd boy ever talk to Herod or one of the three kings? For that matter, when did a lamb ever literally talk to a shepherd?), but rather a symbol for power and government. Eventually, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess.

  6. David King Landrith on December 16, 2004 at 11:40 am

    I find your post interesting, Kaimi, because your discovery points to the fact that we often listen to, memorize, and sing these songs with nary a thought about what they say or mean. (Note to Children: The following sentence contains a Christmas spoiler) This is evidently why you chose to pick on “The Little Drummer Boy” instead of something more obviously false like, “Here Comes Santa Clause.”

    And I don’t buy all of the mental gymnastics going on here to explain the doctrinal content of the song. In fact, I like you’re explanation better.

    For my part, I’d never imagined that the King was anyone at all. In fact, I’m not sure that I even remembered that a King was mentioned in that Carol. This makes me wonder what other pernicious false doctrines are lurking in other popular religious songs.

  7. D. Fletcher on December 16, 2004 at 12:52 pm

    Now that I think about it, I think they’re all Jesus. The first verse is the night wind, singing to the little lamb, then the little lamb to the shepherd boy, the shepherd boy to the mighty king, and then the mighty king to the people everywhere. All these seem like metaphors for Jesus.

  8. C. Tyler on December 17, 2004 at 7:01 pm

    My problem with “Do You Hear What I Hear” actually comes up in an earlier verse. Even as little girl, I never understood, “A child, a child shivers in the cold / Let us bring Him silver and gold.” I always thought it would make more sense to bring Him a blanket! And it seems a shepard would have a good supply of wool blankets. And why would a poor shepard boy tell a king, “Let US bring Him silver and gold?” How much gold do you think a poor shepard boy has? I guess even as a child, I took this song much too literally to actually enjoy it.

  9. Dan on December 23, 2004 at 10:35 pm

    Does any one know the name of “the little drummer boy”?

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