HoMY 86: O Come, All Ye Faithful

nativity-figurines.jpg This will be the last Christmas carol for the season, and it seems almost odd that I’ve not already added today’s selection to the series, Then Sings My Soul: The Hymns of My Youth. “O Come, All Ye Faithful” is to me the carol that most proclaims Christmas, the most essential of carols for the season.

The carol comes from the Latin Adeste Fideles, a 1743 hymn by John Francis Wade for text which may date back to the 13th century. Wade was a British exile who moved to a Roman Catholic community in France, where he eked out an income by copying and selling music and giving music lessons to children. The English version, “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” was was translated more than a century later by Frederick Oakeley, a British clergyman who felt that his congregation would sing well if only they had good literary texts to sing. Perhaps this carol expresses some truth in his conviction, as it is generally a difficult one for a congregation not to sing with a little extra “oomph.” The original Latin lyrics follow at the end of the familiar English ones, for those who feel compelled to follow along in the original language.

HoMY 85: Away in a Manger

nativity.jpg Now that we are past Advent and into the Christmastide season, I can legitimately publish Christmas carols to the list in my series, Then Sings My Soul: The Hymns of My Youth. In the church of that youth, the Christmas carols might carry on for a week or so after Christmas (depending how the calendar fell), but that would be it until December. I’m sure it was the same for many of us, who would begin the carols of Christmas again sometime early in the Advent season. This week I add a carol which it is unlikely that one can pass by a Christmas program without hearing: “Away in a Manger.”

Christmas Carol History & Mystery

mommykissingsanta.jpg The holiday season sees my kids and their friends singing versions of Christmas carols that aren’t exactly canon, as we did when we were young. You remember, “Jingle bells, Batman smells…” and “We three kings of orient are / trying to smoke a rubber cigar…” Only now I have to listen to “Dashing through the snow, on a pair of broken skiis / over the fields we go, bumping into trees / I think I broke my head, the snow is turning red…” and others of equal wit.

Today on CBC Radio I caught a bit of a history of “Go Tell it On the Mountain,” which began as a negro spiritual during the slavery era, was popular as a civil rights cry, and now finds life as a Christmas carol. It’s got a clear theme of freedom, and the documentary featured clips of Martin Luther King’s “I’ve been to the mountain” speech.

HoMY 34: What Child is This?

Nativity Scene Another Sunday, another entry in my series, Then Sings My Soul: The Hymns of My Youth. As we’re still in the Christmas season, this week’s selection is “What Child is This,” a Christmas carol written by William Chatterton Dix in 1865 and set to the tune of the 16th century traditional song Greensleeves. As great as the lyrics are, a big part of me still tends to find some of the greatest beauty for the carol in the melody from Greensleeves. It’s the melody, I think, that makes the carol seem a lot older than it really is… and I’m no help to counter that since for the audio this week I’ve selected “Greensleeves” being played on the lute to accompany the lyrics.

What Child is This?

Christmas Mayhem

Sometimes it’s hard not to mangle with Christmas traditions… all in fun, of course. I’m very intrigued by this Advent calendar, for example. My kids are incessantly singing some schoolyard hack of “Jingle Bells,” and every time I hear “The Christmas Song” I’m reminded of a Christmas years ago when a friend who is known for writing his own versions of popular songs recorded a new outgoing message on their answering machine. I forget how the opening lines went, but his jingle ended like this:

Everybody knows
if you hear this, we are not at home —
or we may be call-screening too…
so although it’s been said,
many times, many ways:
“Leave a message, we’ll call you.”

Advent Reflections & Christmas Classics

christmasornaments.jpg The December issue of Next-Wave is out, with features on Advent. Bob asked me if I had something in connection with my book so I quickly dashed something off, not realizing that Advent: Resisting Christmas was going to end up as a Featured Article. Maybe I’d have put in more effort! The piece deals with rediscovering Advent as a part of reacclimatizing ourselves with the historical habits and practices of the church… like the daily office. I wrote it at the end of the first week of Advent, not realizing that the issue would be another week to release, so the prayers I mention in the article as “coming up” were for the week just passed. As we prayed through last week’s prayers, I think I’m not as happy as I could be with how the evening prayers (vespers) in particular came together, but I think there are some gems for the week we’re in now. Book sales have tapered off, probably for the year — thanks to all who made a purchase, it was a real help to our bottom line for the month. I have already thought some about a revised/expanded edition, but I’m deferring too much thought on it until the new year. I’ve still got that missional book to get back to, and I’ve arranged to trade off about half my time to an ongoing project in the next few months (more about that another time).

HoMY 31: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

Frontpiece to A Christmas Carol As the third week of Advent begins, we have a new theme, and a differently-coloured candle to signify it… the pink candle symbolizes Joy. In my ongoing series, Then Sings My Soul: The Hymns of My Youth, we continue through the Advent edition with the Christmas carol I’ve selected for this week: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen. I’m quite sure that in my youth I must have thought the carol was telling a group of merry fellows to settle down and rest, in the “Silent Night” fashion… but there’s a comma, you see. The song is instructing gentlemen — and let’s include the ladies — to be comforted and take heart… for remember, “Christ our saviour was born on Christmas Day!”

HoMY 30: O Holy Night

Dietrich Bonhoeffer My series Then Sings My Soul: The Hymns of My Youth continues with the Advent edition. The carol I’ve selected for the week is, strictly speaking, not an Advent carol, but a Christmas carol. However, this being the start of the second week of Advent, the theme is Peace, and I’ve selected a carol about peace: O Holy Night. I realize I’ve written about this week’s carol before — twice last year. Once giving a nod to the hymn’s origin and once to plug a beautiful version of the song from the now-defunct Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

The hymn was written by Placide Cappeau, a French wine merchant, as “Cantique de Noel”, a poem commissioned for Christmas mass in 1847. It was set to music shortly after by Cappeau’s friend Adolphe Charles Adams, and by 1855 had been translated into many languages — into English by American abolitionist, John Sullivan Dwight.