Mudcat Café message #3758818 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #158777   Message #3758818
Posted By: Pamela R
16-Dec-15 - 12:26 PM
Thread Name: Disappearing Carols
Subject: RE: Disappearing Carols
I'm doing my part to re-introduce the tradition of wassailing in the Southern CA city of San Diego, or at least in Mission Hills, the small neighborhood in which I live.

I grew up with a door-to-door caroling tradition in Buffalo, NY, where one could count on deep snow in December (at least for the 100+ years before this one). Being a member of both a church choir and a high school choir, I had many family and friends who knew by heart a number of traditional carols, in harmony. The church choir en masse went caroling every year, and my high school friends and I went around whenever we could scratch together one voice from every section.

In this somewhat atypical upbringing, I grew up with carols that included the hymnal standards, but also many I rarely hear anymore: Coventry Carol (my favorite carol), Gloucestershire Wassail, Here We Come A-Wassailing, Infant Holy Infant Lowly, The First Noel, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night, Unto Us a Child is Born, Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel, What Child is This, Bring a Torch, Past Three O'Clock; and several sung in other languages: Es ist ein Ros' Entsprungen, Il Et Ne le Divine Enfant, Adeste Fideles, Stille Nacht.

Now, I am an atheist gathering a group of mostly atheist, Buddhist and Jewish friends every year to sing songs about Christmas, surrounded by palm trees, to neighbors who apparently worship Santa Claus. I had to teach my friends most of the carols the first year, but now that we've been doing this for six years there's starting to be a core group who know them all. I take the host's prerogative to be a snob about the song selection. The only "pop" song I include is Jingle Bells. I include as many non-Christmas secular songs as I can: Gloucestershire wassail, Here we come a-wassailing, Deck the hall (singular!!), We Wish You a Merry Christmas (yes, with the figgy pudding), Good King Wenceslas, and I Heard the Bells. We go from porch to porch singing, and some people bring out candies or cookies to us, which keeps the little kids motivated!

To be a tedious pedant: "Good King Wenceslas" is not a Christmas song, it takes place on the Feast of Stephen which is on the 26th or 27th of December, and is a song about being charitable to the poor. Although "Christian men" appears in the final verse, at the time and place of its writing that would be considered a synonym for "moral men" and I translate the line "Therefore all good men be sure…".

"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" is also not a Christmas song, but an anti-war song from the American Civil War ("Then from each black, accursed mouth, the cannon thundered in the South, and with the sound the carols drowned of peace on earth, good-will to men"). It was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a conscientious objector of the war, allegedly in response to his son defying him to join the Union army.

Finally, although it is not suited for caroling, the first song I sing in any song circle or open mic I attend in December is "A Silent Night", Cormac MacConnel's song about the 1914 Christmas truce.

Merry Christmas all.