The Real Reason I Love to Hate “Mary, Did You Know”

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“It’s somber and a little menacing, melodically. It’s the one I used to sing when 1) my voice was shot, and 2) when I knew there’d be a lot of older folks in the congregation. Old folks love to feel guilty for Christmas. IE, what happens when you give a Christian comedian a microphone for too long.” – Mike C.

“Every time someone sings “Mary, Did You Know” an angel rolls his eyes. And I die a little inside.” – Yours Truly (sorry)

“[F]or my money, Mary Did You Know is the worst Christmas song of all time. It’s basically “Mansplaining: Christmas Edition”…and every time you’re tempted to sing or play this song in any context use the Magnificat instead.” – Aric C.

“As of last night I’m no longer a “Mary Did You Know” virgin. ” – Melissa K.

“I’m just going to say it. “Mary, Did You Know?” is the worst Christmas song ever. #livetweetingchristmaseve – Lex

It’s the “God Bless the USA” of Christmas.” – Patrick L.

“Worst Christmas songs of all time:
1. Mary Did You Know
2. 12 Days of Christmas
3. That song that makes me think about Peter Griffin singing about Burger King” – Summer

“Not sure which Christmas song is worst: “Mary, Did You Know?” or “Christmas Shoes.” Both put me in a blind rage” – @savageprof

“I think we can all agree that the Kenny Rogers/Wynona Judd version of “Mary, Did You Know?” is the worst version of that song the world has ever heard.” – Kristin H.

“Christmas Shoes is the worst, but I can’t turn “Mary Did You Know” off quickly enough.” – Shannon M.

“Mary did you know, that your baby boy would be responsible for the worst month of music?” – Alexander M.

“‘Mary, Did You Know’ is one of the worst Christmas songs. It’s theology…hell…even the exegetical base, is terrible. Mary sang a damn song about it. She wasn’t concerned about her son ‘walking on water’. Read the Magnificat.” – Brennan K.A. Pollock

“‘Mary, Did You Know’ is hands down the worst Christmas song, it’s also, quite possibly, simply the worst song ever.” – spencer

“With December nearly upon us I’d like to remind everyone that ‘Mary, Did You Know?’ is one of the worst Christmas songs and pretty much the only one worse is ‘Christmas Shoes,’ but that one is at least funny” – sara cannon

Mary, Did You Freaking Know?

It’s the song church musicians love to hate, with that hatred intensifying over the past few years. Mocking memes, Facebook rants, and clever parodies have surfaced, usually taking umbrage at its audacity to interrogate the mother of Jesus on what she knew, and when she knew it.

Let’s get one thing straight. These critics who insist on mocking the title question, screaming out “Yes! Of course she knew! Quit asking!” are either unfamiliar with the concept of rhetorical questions or are intentionally being dense. No, Mark Lowry is no genius. Yes, the rhyme scheme lacks creativity and intentionality. No, a three-minute-and-twenty-second assault of rhetorical questions may not be a convincing and astute poetic strategy, but it’s not difficult to see where he was heading with this line of questioning. You don’t need to remind us about Gabriel’s visit. We’ve all (probably. hopefully.) read Luke 1.

The first few times it was funny, but it’s gotten weird.

Let’s move on.

Sorry Mary…

Mary, did you know Mark Lowry would one day write a song that people would love more than the song you actually sang?

My beef with the song is its unwarranted popularity. It’s may be far from the worst, but can we justify the high esteem in which consumer audiences hold it? Seriously? Is it because of the “amazing” and “breathtaking” Pentatonix rendition? Or the whiny, high-larynxed Michael English smash recording? Is it because of that one line (“When you kiss your little baby / you’ve kissed the face of God”) that makes some people cry like they’re chopping white onions?

Frankly, I’m a bit baffled why so many find Mary, Did You Know to be compulsory for every new commercial Christmas album, for every evangelical church’s Christmas rotation. I especially cringe a bit when people refer to it as a Christmas “carol.” It’s not a sacred hymn or folk song, and it’s not a “carol.” It’s a pop song. And while some might say it’s not a bad pop song, I cannot fathom how it deserves a place among the church’s great Christmas carols. Can it really compare to the epic poem Of the Father’s Love Begotten? Or the theological treatise found in the second stanza of Hark! the Herald Angels Sing? Is the melody as grand as Handel’s ANTIOCH, as beautifully sweet as DIVINUM MYSTERIUM, or as beckoningly sweeping as ADESTE FIDELES?

No.

So we’re left with the only thing Christian culture values in its music: jesusy feelings. Especially in the engineered sound of a commercial recording, it makes the masses feel something without having to give anything.

For me, that’s why it’s tempting to make fun of the little number, and it’s why I included the MDYK reference in my last post of things that make church musicians cringe this time of year. I confess I must roll my eyes at the notion that it’s not Christmas until someone has blessed us with a self-indulgent rendition of this early-90s, slightly kitschy song written by an otherwise obnoxious, irreverent, and only slightly amusing Christian culture comedian.

Exhibit A:

At a previous church I served, I was told mid-November that Mary, Did You Know was so awesome and worshipful that someone was going to have to sing it every single year, and I’d best not go and try to change things up. Not being a “yes” person, I immediately instituted a “3rd year only” MDYK rule. It could only be sung, played, whistled, or kazoo-ed once every 3 years (which is still too frequent for my taste, but don’t tell me I’m not willing to compromise!).

No, it’s not the worst Christmas song out there, but it’s just another pop song that gives “Christian” audiences good jesusy feelings. Let’s send it the way of the ugly Christmas sweater.

But if you really want to talk about a bad Christmas song, I think it’s time we move the discussion in a different direction…

Photo:
Flickr, creative commons 2.0

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