‘Tis the season for Christmas music—from festive classics to hymns of longing and anticipation. For Christians, the significance of the season and our observation of Advent causes us to appreciate the latter. But do we fully understand the meaning or the origins behind the words we sing?
This question was the inspiration for the new podcast Hark! The Stories Behind Our Favorite Christmas Carols. Hosted by American Media’s Maggi Van Dorn, the show unwrapped one sacred Christmas tune each week during this Advent period. Whether listeners grew up singing these carols in church or only have some distant familiarity, Hark! offers some discoveries that even avid fans of these songs might not know.
In essence, this podcast is all about bridging historical context with modern appreciation, and the result is equal parts educational and delightful. The first episode begins with a broad discussion about the history of Christmas carols—from European beginnings to the way in which African American spirituals influenced themes of liberation. A deeper dive into songs like “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and “Silent Night” takes place in the following segments. Listeners will appreciate the host’s thoughtfulness and attention to detail as she uncovers interesting facts or unique ideas about each song.
When it comes to exploring the origins of Christmas carols, the challenge is that many of them date back several centuries. It’s helpful that Van Dorn talks with musicians, theologians, and cultural commentators who are performing or studying the music today. Their contributions add to the podcast’s well-rounded nature and provide new insight into the meaning and the making of these songs. And, in bridging the historical and the modern, some of them have a keen way of phrasing their appreciation. As one guest mentioned in regards to sacred Christmas music as a whole, “It just kicks liturgical butt, you know?”
Hark!’s five-episode series is available for streaming on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.