The last "official" Christmas carol, "Little Drummer Boy," was written in 1958, notes songwriter Michael McLean. In a telephone interview from his Heber home, McLean said, "We don't latch on to new Christmas carols easily."
This made it all the more challenging to compose his Christmas album, "The Forgotten Carols.""I wanted the songs to really bring a unique, fresh voice, but the music itself had to sound like it had been around for a while," he said. So one night in December of 1990, McLean wrote a song about what the infamous innkeeper in Bethlehem would tell us about the night he turned a needy couple away. "The innkeeper's song came like songs do - it was a gift. I started to cry when I was writing the song. `This is me,' I thought. We're all like the innkeeper. We're nice people, we're just busy and so we miss incredible opportunities. We don't want to hurt Joseph and Mary, but we're busy running the kids to soccer practice and doing our church stuff. We're not open to those sensitivities."
McLean considered how a shepherd who fell asleep and missed the angelic announcement would accept the holy story, how love could fill the heart of a barren woman privileged to hold the Christ child and the humility Joseph would feel at being asked to parent the Son of God. "I started to explore all these possibilities, and for me that first Christmas was becoming more special," he said. " `It's a Wonderful Life' and `Miracle on 34th Street' are wonderful stories, but they're not about Christ. I wanted to write Capra-esque songs to keep reminding us to pattern our lives after the Savior," McLean said.
The resulting storybook/album about the carols and the Christmas ornaments for each song has obviously become special to many people in the Mountain West. "The Forgotten Carols" has sold approximately 100,000 albums and nearly as many books in the three years it has been out. No small measure of that success has come because of McLean's willingness to perform 20 shows in 17 cities in 30 days - like this year's tour that ends Dec. 17.
McLean's Christmas concert will be at Cottonwood High School, 5717 S. 1300 East, on Wednesday, Dec. 14; Thursday, Dec. 15, and Saturday, Dec. 17, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $9, available at the door or at Deseret Book.
McLean's concert will not only feature his carols but the behind-the-scenes story of their creation. "I love Christmas because people are willing to open their hearts and receive things at Christmastime. Reading the story for the family and pausing for the songs is becoming a tradition. People are telling me it's an important part of their lives. One woman brought me an ornament she made of a little can painted like a burning garbage can with a Christmas tree on it for the song `Homeless.' She told me they were transferred to Salt Lake City, then her husband lost his job and they were evicted from their home," McLean said. The woman explained how her family learned about love during that homeless Christmas, and that it's how we live, not where.
McLean said, "People come up after concerts and tell me the most extraordinary stories about how this music has helped them. One guy said he'd never cared for Christmas because his mother died one week before Christmas, and his sister had been divorced at Christmas time. After attending `The Forgotten Carols' program, he came up after and said, `How do I thank the man who gave me back Christmas?' "