I love “O Holy Night.”
I write that unironically. I’m not a Christian. Heck, I’m even skeptical of the historicity of Jesus, and even if he were historical I doubt there’s any truth to the Nativity story as related in Christian mythology. Yet, in the pantheon of Christmas songs, “O Holy Night,” a song explicitly about the night Jesus was born, ranks highly for me. I have 31 different versions, running over 2 hours consecutively, on my hard drive. When the song hits me right, when it’s done sensitively, I get weepy. I find it quite moving.
But not the Arcade Fire version. They sound like they were drunk off their asses, and it’s hard to take it at all seriously.
What about “O Holy Night” do I find so appealing? The tune, certainly. It’s a lovely tune, an evocative tune, whether it’s done on cellos, guitars, piano, harp, even bagpipes. There’s a gentleness to the tune that carries you along and sweeps you away, and it’s hard to believe that the tune is only 150 years old instead of something that’s existed forever.
Also, though Jesus isn’t my myth and Christianity isn’t my belief, I find the chorus — more specifically, the first refrain, the part that begins “Fall on your knees!” — quite powerful.
Such is the power of art. It doesn’t have to be literally true to have an emotional power. There were never Hobbits, nor a Mount Doom or a Ring of Power, yet the ending of The Return of the King leaves me bereft. There was never a Roy Hobbs, he never played baseball for the New York Knights, yet the end of the The Natural (film, I should caution) is simply breathtaking.
In the same way, I can — and do — love “O Holy Night.”
And if you want a really lovely version, I recommend the one by Sleeping at Last. The Eisley version is solid, too.