Sounds of the Holiday Season

Recordings by J. Caroline Toy, Isaac Weiner, and Lauren Pond
Audio editing by Lauren Pond
Photographs by Lauren Pond and Isaac Weiner

Religion is often portrayed as a discrete entity – as something that’s confined within the four walls of a church, mosque, temple, synagogue, or the like. Our current work on the American Religious Sounds Project begins to challenge these assumptions. Through our field recordings and essays, we have started to explore how religious sound can seep out of its traditional confines and interact with the surrounding sonic environment – sometimes in a confrontational manner, and sometimes in a more symbiotic one. We’re examining how sound can serve as a point of contact between different faiths, between religious and secular spheres, and among religious followers themselves.

It has been particularly intriguing to listen for overlapping sounds during the holiday season, when many faith communities celebrate in the public sphere. The following audio clips and collages illustrate some of the sonic diversity and overlap of the holiday season in Columbus, Ohio.


In North Clintonville, members of the local pagan community gathered for a “Krampus Parade,” which celebrated the spirit of Krampus, Santa Claus’ devilish Germanic counterpart. As legend has it, while Santa rewarded good children, Krampus punished those who behaved badly. On Dec. 4, Columbus pagans in costume paraded down North High Street, during which time they uttered chants and played a variety of drums and noisemakers. In doing so, they hoped to celebrate the spirit of Krampus and attempt to cast evil out of the world. Listen to the sounds of the parade:




PROCESSION FOR OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE Across the city on East Livingston Avenue, Spanish Catholics participated in a procession for Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Virgin Mary as she allegedly appeared to Christian convert Juan Diego in the 1500s. She is considered to be the Patron Saint of Mexico. Each year, Spanish Catholics across the city hold processions in her honor, during which they utter recitations, sing, and play music. This year, a crowd of about 50 people trudged two miles in the snow and slush to the Christ the King Catholic Church. Listen to the sounds of the procession:





HOLIDAY SHOPPING At the Easton Town Center, one of Columbus’ busiest shopping malls during the holiday season, the sounds of Christmas music and sleigh bells overlap with the din of consumer activities. Listen to the sounds of the holiday shopping bustle:

CHRISTMAS TREE-LIGHTING CEREMONY In Bexley, the public gathers for an annual Christmas tree-lighting ceremony at the corner of East Broad Street and Drexel. This recording came from the 2015 event. Traffic was blocked as the Bexley High School Vocal Ensemble led the crowd in caroling, punctuated, of course, by the sounds of jangling keys during “Jingle Bells.” After a communal countdown, Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler pushed down on a detonator to light the tree, but the real climax came when Santa Claus entered the scene on the back of a fire truck, lights flashing and sirens blaring, eliciting both cheers and tears from some of the younger people in the crowd, many of whom then lined up for a turn on his lap. This lighthearted event combined religious and civic themes in surprisingly complex ways. Listen to the sounds of the festivities:



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