Back in the ’70s I was roped in to perform at a Christmas service in Shrewsbury where I was allowed to play banjo and sing harmonies, but not to sing this one, on the grounds that it’s ‘more of an Easter song’.
I seem to have mislaid the Christmas gene in recent years but I still find myself singing this around this time of year (or perhaps that’s why). Ewan MacColl’s politicized view of the life of Christ doesn’t seem to me to be religious at all, but it seems appropriate to me when celebrating the beginning of the story to bear in mind how it ended. Your mileage may vary.
I never actually heard MacColl sing this: I learned it from the version Phil Ochs recorded on ‘I ain’t marching any more.’ Ochs did it – very well IMHO – on guitar, but I usually sing it unaccompanied, even though I’ve also mislaid the traditionalist gene.
In fact, according to this post, Ochs made some changes which seem to me to have improved the song. However, the post includes what are apparently the original lyric too.