Revamping old carol messages

University of Otago emeritus professor of English Colin Gibson. Photo by ODT files.
University of Otago emeritus professor of English Colin Gibson. Photo by ODT files.
Colin Gibson, a man who has penned his fair share of Christmas carols, says it's important to add a fresh twist to old messages.

An emeritus professor of English at the University of Otago, Prof Gibson has written and taught in the area of church music for more than 30 years, and his hymns have been printed in more than 40 international hymn books.

Made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2002 for his contribution to music, Prof Gibson has been involved in choral singing for more than 50 years, and has composed both music and text for New Zealand-themed yuletide offerings.

He might often start with typical biblical narratives (''the givens such as the star, the angels, the three wise men and shepherds who turn up ...''), but prefers to offer a new viewpoint.

''There are an awful lot of carols that just repeat the same themes endlessly,'' he says.

For instance, he suggests the image of Baby Jesus in the manger could be framed in a different light.

''Look at the social implications of a baby stuck in a backyard shed because there is no room anywhere, which parallels the fate of many children elsewhere.''

A good example of a New Zealand-flavoured carol is Mr Gibson's There's Straw In the Manger, which includes the lines:

The register's ringing
And shop choirs are singing;
It's bargains galore in the folly of love.
It's midsummer madness,
And every day badness:
The usual scene for the coming of Christ.

''That is trying to tap into what is the real Christmas for New Zealanders,'' he explains.

''I'm interested in what Christmas means to us as a community. I think we do go stark raving bonkers at this time of year.

''One of the great Christian writers, St Paul, said it was crazy for God to send down a baby. That's where the idea of folly comes from. I think we behave with a great deal of folly in precisely the same way.''

Mr Gibson says humour and light-hearted messages might also be important components in a carol.

''Cheerfulness is what sets in at Christmas, by and large. I think merriment is one of the essential tones of Christmas. Hope, too, is in abundance. After all, a new year is looming.''