24 December 2014

Musings on Christmas

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

NB: This is a slightly modified post from years past 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 at face value, 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, so relevant today, 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 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,

I hope, wherever you are, that you find peace in your heart during these darkest days of the year.

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

(Edited to add: it seems that since I first wrote this post, the link no longer is available in the US.  So here's a link to the carol, sung by the Irish Rovers.  And here is a link to Loreena McKennitt, so that you can imagine the carol sung in her style. This one is "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.")

(Edited again to add: one of my commenters found a working link to the McKennitt version of Good King Wenceslas.  Yay and thank you!)


  1. YouTube link blocked in the US.... :-(

    1. Oops! Sorry about that. Thanks for letting me know and i"ll try to come up with a substitute.

  2. http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x8njce_good-king-wenceslas-loreena-mckenni_music This works

  3. This is exactly why I reserve places for homeless people at Crisis every Christmas. I'm not religious at all, but still, it feels very important, especially at a time of year when the world's out spending and going crazy over STUFF (Black Friday, anyone?). For the price of a couple of DVDs I can give someone a chance to feel like a person at Christmas - to eat dinner with other people, to laugh and forget the crap for a while, to scrub up and get access to resources like health checks and housing advice. I'm out of work at the moment so I could only afford to reserve one place this year - but still, that's one person who won't be alone on the street tonight...

    Wonderful post - I don't think I've ever heard Loreena M's version of Good King Wenceslas so I'll check that out, and I'm bookmarking this to come back and read again next year. :)

    1. Ellie, that sounds like a wonderful thing to do. I'm not familiar with Crisis, but I'm looking it up now.

      Apparently my original link isn't working, but another commenter left one that does, if you want to check it out above in the comments.

  4. Merry Christmas Emily and all good wishes to you and yours.

    1. Thanks! And I hope that you and your lovely family did, too. Hope to see you on the beaches of Anguilla some time in 2015!

  5. I hope you had a lovely Christmas.

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