What is your favorite contemporary Christian song

Itzehoer Cantors on the subject of Christmas carols : Bad chances for new songs

At no time of the year is there so much singing as at Christmas - new trends rarely catch on, say Dörthe Landmesser and Stephan Reinke.

Dörthe Landmesser and Stephan Reinke are cantors in Itzehoe. While Landmesser's focus is on classical church music, Reinke is responsible for popular music in church services. In an interview, the two explain why Christmas carols are so popular.

“Vom Himmel hoch”, “Every year again”, “Last Christmas” - no other festival has as many songs as Christmas. Ms. Landmesser, Mr. Reinke, why is that?

Reinke: The feast of the birth of Jesus is a central event in Christianity. This joyous occasion has always been sung, it's an unbroken tradition. Even in the Bible you can find great chants about the Christmas story such as the “Magnificat” or the “Nunc dimittis”. The habit of setting these texts to music quickly developed in church music. In the course of time numerous church songs have been written for Christmas, many incidentally in the course of the Reformation.

Land surveyor: The tradition of Christmas carols received a boost from the shepherds' games or the so-called Christkindlwiegen in the 15th and 16th centuries. As a result, Christmas singing is deeply rooted in our culture.

How have the Christmas carols developed since then?

Land surveyor: In the 19th century, Christmas carols moved into bourgeois living rooms. Romanticizing elements came to the fore, for example when the Christmas tree or the softly trickling snow were sung about.

Reinke: Over time, theology has gradually disappeared from the Christmas carols. In “Every year again” the Christ child is still there, but the meaning of Christmas no longer. And at some point you end up with “In the Christmas Bakery” or “White Christmas”.

Why are songs still being written around the festival when the actual message no longer plays a role?

Land surveyor: There are a lot of emotions in the Christmas carols. They bring back memories from childhood. And then the music is also used for sales purposes. Thanks to the sprinkling on the Christmas market or in the department store, the Christmas carols are also preserved outside of the church.

Reinke: It is quite astonishing that thousands of people have been gathering in football stadiums to sing Christmas carols for some years now. It started very small in Berlin in 2003 and has now become a nationwide phenomenon. People come together who don't really have much to do with singing. So you can see how many emotions must be associated with the Christmas carols.

Does that mean that around Christmas people are easier to get excited about singing than usual?

Land surveyor: At least for consuming music. No matter what kind of concerts we offer around Christmas, they are always full. But also around 200 people always come to our Advent singing, which we have been organizing in the inner city community for six years.

Reinke: The choir projects that I do are also better attended around Christmas. At home under the Christmas tree, on the other hand, people probably don't sing as much as they used to be.

What are the trends in contemporary Christmas carols?

Reinke: As with other pop music, contemporary Christmas carols are generally not made for singing along. The concept is: a band sings their Christmas carol.

Land surveyor: I also find it interesting that there are actually no new songs that are gaining acceptance. As a rule, you always remember old hits that you know from childhood.

Reinke: This has to do with the fact that many people have very traditional expectations about Christmas. Pop songs that are popular today for Christmas often come from either the 70s or 80s such as “War is over” or “Last Christmas” or from the 20s and 30s such as “Winter Wonderland”.

Land surveyor: When stars like Helene Fischer bring out the latest CDs with Christmas carols, they are all old songs too. They just sell well. Mostly the maudlin is in the foreground, the content of the texts is not particularly deep.

Sounds a bit negative, but can you get something positive out of the hustle and bustle around Christmas carols?

Reinke: I think it's good when people sing at all. If, in addition, positive emotions are transmitted through the Christmas carols, then that is also a value in itself. What is played in department stores and Christmas markets are, of course, mostly American songs or children's songs by Rolf Zuckowski. As a church musician, I see it as our task to ensure that the strong Christian songs are not lost.

What is your favorite Christmas carol?

Land surveyor: My absolute favorite is "I'm standing at your crib here".

Reinke: Mine too.

So very classic. And do you have childhood memories associated with this song?

Land surveyor: Yes, I come from a very Protestant family, where this song was always played under the Christmas tree. There are deep emotions attached to it.

Reinke: For me, the approach is more rational. I think the text and music are very successful. The lines are from Paul Gerhardt, who fascinates me how he was able to write such texts during the Thirty Years' War. It takes an enormous strength of faith to do so.