Songs of the Season – Peter, Paul, and Mary – Light One Candle

“Light One Candle” was written by Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul, and Mary fame) and first performed in the early 1980s. While it is generally considered a Hanukkah song, with its references to the “Maccabee Children” and “light one candle” (as on a menorah), I don’t know that it’s inappropriate amongst Christmas songs either.

First of all, as far as the “Maccabee Children”, the exclusion of the books of Maccabees (as well as the rest of the “Apocrypha”) in Bible canon is not just a Protestant thing, but generally an American Protestant thing, and something that really started taking hold in the late 1800s. Even the original King James Version of the Bible contained these books. I learned this from living in Germany, where Christians are split pretty evenly between Protestants and Catholics, and where amongst people who actually read the Bible, it’s generally the Bible that many here consider the “Catholic version”. One night, I was watching the German version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” with Günther Jauch (who is such an amazing host the show is still running there), and I nearly fell out of my seat when one of the questions referenced the book of Judith. I also came across a story concerning Magdalena Scholl (mother of Hans and Sophie Scholl of the White Rose) and the story of the mother and her seven sons from 2 Maccabees 7, and she was a former Lutheran deaconess.

Maccabee
Icon of the “Maccabee Children” with their mother and the priest Eleazar

Furthermore, there’s a lot of Christmas imagery concerning lights and candles, from Jesus being the light of the world to Saint Lucia etc, etc.

I think the larger “objection” to the song might be the “call to action” and things like a call to justice. While some of it does sound like the language of the hippie movement, a lot of their language was “lifted” from Christian thought and principle. Speaking about justice, for example, is not a bad thing, provided that it is actually justice that is being called for. Christianity ought not to be considered a passive state, though we kind of hear that in statements like “I am a Christian”, but rather something that we are actively striving toward.

I also like that the song goes from the historical and to the personal before it talks about “going outward”. It is the order in which lasting change ultimately happens. I’m not even claiming that many of the saints lived perfect lives, but we live in an era where we have all these people who are more than ready to lecture the whole world about how everybody else ought to be living their lives without even having their own house marginally in order, and then everyone wonders why there is so much chaos all over the place.

In addition to the “Carol of the Bells” playlist, I’ve started a general playlist of Christmas songs that will include pieces mentioned here, for anyone interested.


dore canto 31 white rose

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