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Of the 341 hymns comprising the Church's current Hymnbook, the 14 commonly associated with Christmas are conveniently grouped together, from "Joy to the World" at No. 201 to "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" at No. 214.
From just after Thanksgiving to New Year's Day, they serve as our standard music choices in worship services, and Church meetings and socials.
Many of these hymns are heard outside of religious settings this time of year — played on radios, piped in as background music in shopping centers, performed at concerts and pageants and recorded in all sorts of versions and renditions on myriad holiday albums, CDs and mixes.
They are lumped into what the holiday music the world calls Christmas carols, defining the broad category of "carols" as festive songs of praise and joy, often religious but not necessarily connected with worship, and also often — but not always — celebrating the birth of Christ.
Christmas hymns can be labeled as Christmas carols, but certainly not all holiday carols can be considered hymns. In recent decades, modern Christmas music has moved closer to festivities and secular subjects and farther away from the Savior's birth and mission,
It seems like over time, Christmas hymns have had to share the musical stage with Christmas carols, and both have started to get squeezed out by an ever-increasing influx of Christmas songs. For us, this should make singing Christmas hymns all the more welcome, wonderful and worshipful.
It is one thing to be singing these hymns in praise and adoration as Latter-day Saints in our worship services. But pause and think the next time you're enjoying these same "carols" with family, friends, neighbors and associates in other environs.
Do we recognize the words, as many around us are singing of or listening to:
Hallowed names — from "Son of the Father" ("Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful," Hymn 202) to "the Savior who is Christ the Lord" ("While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks," No. 211).
Heaven and angels — from "God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven" ("O Little Town of Bethlehem," No. 208) to "angels bending near the earth" ("It Came upon the Midnight Clear," No. 207).
A sacred birth — from "born that man no more may die" ("Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," No. 209) to "all is calm, all is bright round yon virgin mother and Child" ("Silent Night," No. 204).
Now, back to the Hymnbook — a 15th well-known LDS hymn is also listed under the topical heading of "Christmas." Can you guess what it is?
While it isn't considered typical Christmas-season fare, "I Believe in Christ" — Hymn No. 134, penned by the late Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve — is found with the 14 aforementioned hymns under "Christmas" in the index.
Yes, it is a broad-based testimony and treatise of the role of the Redeemer in Heavenly Father's Plan of Salvation and the importance of the Savior's mission and ministry. As such, "I Believe in Christ" is found under many other topical listings as well — including "Commitment," "Easter," "Faith," "Jesus Christ — Example," "Jesus Christ — Second Coming," "Praise," "Testimony" and "Worship."
By comparison, all but one of the 14 traditional Christmas hymns are listed only under the "Christmas" heading ("Joy to the World" is assigned to the topics of both "Christmas" and "Jesus Christ — Second Coming").
The lyrics of "I Believe in Christ" are as powerful and poignant as any of the well-beloved seasonal LDS hymns. Ponder these words from the second verse:
I believe in Christ; oh blessed name!
As Mary's Son he came to reign
'Mid mortal men, his earthly kin,
To save them from the woes of sin. —
This verse is a fitting selection for consideration at Christmas, while the entire hymn frames Jesus' mortal birth and life in an eternal perspective — something we should all remember at this time of year.