25 December 2012

And So This Is Christmas...

Image source: http://www.disclose.tv

NB: This is a slightly modified post from last year that I wanted to reuse for Christmas.

It's a little out of character for me to write a blog post that is about neither books nor travel.  But there's a Christmas song lingering in my mind right now that I have been listening to more or less on a loop for the last couple of days.  I love sacred Christmas carols, though I'm not Christian. Agnostic, I suppose is the proper term.  Perhaps a cultural Episcopalian is a little more specific. A lapsed Whiskeypalian if you want to get playful with it.   Whatever spark of the sacred that remains buried in me always feels deeply disheartened by the relentless commercialism of a secular Christmas; thus, my recent soundtrack  Loreena McKennitt's performance of Good King Wenceslas.

As far as I know, it is the only Christmas carol that remains as relevant today as it ever did.   So  regardless of any divine stuff,  a couple of millennia ago, give or take, this guy Jesus did some pretty revolutionary stuff.  I'm prepared to accept that, if not his divinity.  But what does the celebration of his birth mean for the world today, all those angels and mangers (bacon creche?) and glorias in excelsis deo *? For my money, it's the et in terra pax ominibus** that is so important, yet so sorely lacking, in our current times where grace and graciousness are endangered species.  

With the changing of just two little words so the song is non gender-specific or non-religious specific, Good King Wenceslas is what speaks to me tonight and all year 'round: give of yourself, give of your time, share what you have, even especially if it takes you out of your comfort zone.  It's pretty simple.  Here are the lyrics, with my slight modifications in place.  Maybe they will speak to you, too.

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
Where the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gathering winter fuel.

"Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know'st it, telling--
Yonder peasant, who is he? 
Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence,
By St. Agnes' fountain."

"Bring me flesh and bring me wine, 
Bring me pine logs hither.
Thou and I shall see him dine
When we bring them thither."
Page and monarch forth they went,
Forth they went together.
Heedless of the wind's lament
And the bitter weather.

"Sire, the night grows darker now
And the wind blows stronger.
Fails my heart, I know not how.
I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, my good page.
Tread thou in them boldly.
Thou shall find the winter's rage
Freeze the blood less coldly."

In his master's steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted.
Heat was in the very sod
Which the saint had printed.
Therefore, all good folk, be sure,
Wealth or rank possessing:
You who now shall bless the poor
Shall yourself find blessing.

Here's a link that will take you directly to a YouTube video that uses McKennitt's haunting song. It's not just the song, for me, but also the arrangement that is so important.  I love the melding of a traditional western carol with Celtic and Middle Eastern musical elements as well and the instruments you don't normally hear outside a medieval/Renaissance festival. The Middle Eastern aspect actually places the song in a historical context like never before, and I like that it feels like it has come full circle.

* Glory to God in the highest
**And on earth, peace to all people


  1. Happy Christmas. Thank you for all your writings (books and travel) over the past year. I have so enjoyed reading all your contributions. All the best for 2013.
    Jan x

    1. Thanks, Jan! We had a couple of recent scares, my husband and I, so I'm thankful that we were both able to be at home for Christmas. I hope that your 2013 is full of good books and good travel, and thanks for reading!

  2. I too have begun a process of shaking off the commercial...a part of some recent soul searching I've had to do. I refuse to be sucked into the world's version of Christmas and so agree with what you said "grace and graciousness are endangered species." I can't and won't live that kind of life.
    Blessings to you and your husband :)

    1. Thanks, and blessings back to you and your family, both two legged and four legged!

  3. I LOVE LOREENA MCKENNITT. And I always feel like I'm spelling her name wrong, because SO many double letters.

    My trio sang verses 1, 4 and 5 of Good King Wenceslas about a billion times in performance this year. I love 'Therefore Christian men be sure' because you get to be all smiley and loud and joyful on it. But I like this version of the lyrics better, obvs.

    All the older English carols make me happy because people have been singing them for SO long and getting some kind of meaning for centuries.

    1. I'm never convinced that I've spelled her name correctly but I LOVE her voice. I wish i could have heard your trio sing it--it's one of the most under-sung carols, I think. and it's so fun!

  4. that's really beautiful- thanks for posting the link and i hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday season!

  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Christmas and that beautiful version of Good King Wenceslas. I can hear my mother singing this one at Christmastime. She had just the loveliest voice. There is something sacred about the sound as well as the message - it hits you in the heart.
    Happy New Year


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