Ottawa cuts song from concert after Christmas controversy

Last Updated: Thursday, December 20, 2007

CBC News
An Ottawa elementary school choir opted not to sing about silver bells at its Christmas concert Thursday after its decision to cut the word Christmas from the lyrics caused a stir.

The choir at Elmdale Public School in Ottawa planned to break from tradition with its version of the Christmas classic Silver Bells during a singalong assembly outside the school Thursday afternoon.

But in the end, it skipped the song, after at least one parent publicly expressed concern about the change.

Rhoda Boyd said she had a "bit of an issue" when she found out the words "Christmas Day" would be replaced by "a festive day" in the chorus of the 1951 Christmas song by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston. Other references to Christmas in the song were to be similarly replaced with more generic words.

"They're changing something that's traditional. It's something that a lot of people in this country identify with," said Boyd, whose daughter is in the school's second and third grade choir. "And it begs the question: why has it been changed?"

The songs and their lyrics were sent home to parents leading up to Thursday's concert, and reaction from other Elmdale parents interviewed by the CBC was mixed.

One mother said she was "shocked and appalled" while another thought the school should have left Christmas alone. A third thought having a song for all cultures was a good idea.

Lynn Scott, chairwoman of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, said the song was chosen by teachers as only one of many at the concert that represent a variety of seasonal traditions, including Christmas and Hanukkah.

"Just to make sure everyone was comfortable looking at their own children in their own classes, they made the judgment call to change the word in that one song," she said.

She said it might have been more appropriate to choose a non-Christmas song instead of changing one that included a reference to the Christian holiday.

But, she added, "Teachers did something out of the best of intentions. Do we always get it right when we try to do things for good reason? No, we don't always get it right."

Versions of Silver Bells have been recorded by dozens of artists since the song first appeared in the 1951 movie The Lemon Drop Kid, including Bing Crosby, John Denver, Elvis Presley, Garth Brooks, Gloria Estefan and Billy Idol.