Two carols to sing after Christmas

  • stwenceslaus_sm.jpgStill so much to celebrate, so much to think about. I’ve posted this before, but here’s the deal on two Christmas carols that would make more sense sung after December 25 than before. (Heck, one of them you can wait until September to sing if you want.)


    The Coventry Carol (Lully, Lullay)

    Ties in with: The Slaying of the Holy Innocents — December 29 (December 26 in the West)
    If you don’t remember the song, here’s part of it. They changed the words though, as people tend to do, that Old English not making much sense to them. (buy the whole song HERE):

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    1229-14000innocents02.jpgThis is a song of such pure sweetness that it’s hard to believe that it’s a mother lamenting her infant son who will soon be killed by Herod’s soldiers. According to Wikipedia, the song is all that’s left of a 15th century “mystery play” (a play that highlighted parts of the Bible in song) called “The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors.” The lyrics are a little hard to follow, but what you can understand – together with the lilting sadness of this melody — are enough to remind us that the first martyrs to die for Christ were 14,000 children in Bethlehem. Here are the lyrics:
    Lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
    By, by, lully, lullay.
    Lullay, Thou little tiny Child.
    By, by, lully, lullay.

    O sisters, too, how may we do,
    For to preserve this day;
    This poor Youngling for whom we sing,
    By, by, lully, lullay.

    Herod the King, in his raging,
    Charged he hath this day;
    His men of might, in his own sight,
    All children young to slay.

    Then woe is me, poor Child, for Thee,
    And ever mourn and say;
    For Thy parting, nor say nor sing,
    By, by, lully, lullay.


    Good King Wenceslas

    Ties in with: Either St. Stephen’s day — December 27 (December 26 in the West) OR St. Wenceslaus day — September 28 (same in the West)

    Here’s a little of what it sounds like (buy the whole song in this version HERE)

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    According to Wikipedia, the lyrics are from 1863, the tune is a Finnish song of the 1500’s. The story is about the “good king” taking pity on one of his lowly subjects on a winter’s day. Trekking through the snow with food and drink to give to a peasant, his page complains that the cold is too much for him. The king tells the page to follow in his footsteps, and sure enough, when “in his master’s steps he trod,” the page finds he can bear the weather. So the song serves to remind 19th-century Christians that to do an act of random kindness was to follow in their Master’s footsteps. Not a bad thing to remember now, too.

    stwenceslaus.jpg“King Wenceslas” was St. Wenceslaus, Prince of the Czechs, a much-beloved young ruler who was killed by his ambitious brother in 935 while on his way into Matins. He’s one of the main patron saints in the Czech Republic and figures in many legends, including one in Prague that if the land is ever in danger, his equestrian statue will come to life so he can come to the rescue.

    And he’s an Orthodox saint, too, so if anyone is dying to have ‘Wenceslaus’ as their church name, it’s legit. Just make sure you don’t spell it without the ‘u’ like the Christmas carol. But do make sure you look out on the Feast of Stephen. It may be bowing to pop culture, but everyone will expect it of you.

    Apart from that mention of the date, there’s nothing tying it specifically to St. Stephen, so I suppose this carol is most aptly sung on St. Wenceslaus’ day, September 28.

    Here are the lyrics of the song:

    Good King Wenceslas looked out
    On the feast of Stephen
    When 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
    Gath’ring 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 Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

    “Bring me flesh and bring me wine
    Bring me pine logs hither
    Thou and I will see him dine
    When we bear him thither.”
    Page and monarch forth they went
    Forth they went together
    Through the rude wind’s wild lament
    And the bitter weather

    “Sire, the night is 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 shalt find the winter’s rage
    Freeze thy 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, Christian men, be sure
    Wealth or rank possessing
    Ye who now will bless the poor
    Shall yourselves find blessing

    (Little bit of legalese here with regard to the audio samples above: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit.)

6 Responses and Counting...

  • Mimi 12.27.2013

    I love The Coventry Carol espescially, but both of these carols.

  • especially. I really can spell.

  • That's okay. I assumed it was the effect of reading Olde English for a bit. Or an eggnog hangover. Either way. ;-)

  • Well, now that you mention it…probably both ;)

  • I like your version of King Wenceslaus best! When we went to Prague in May we had lunch in his vineyard. His relics are in St. Vitus church by the castle at the top of the hill. He's always been a favorite of mine because I was born on 26 December (the feast of Stephen for the western world) and I felt a kinship to hear a song with my birthdate in it.

    Wish you'd take some time to do more carols in Byzantine chant form. I have all three of your Byzantine carols on my iPod. LOVE them!

  • I agree — both of those versions of the songs were big hits with me. It's become so common now to hear classics redone by this year's hot stars that it's hard to find versions that make the original song the star, so to speak.

    As for my Byzantine ramblings and rumblings, you're too kind! What I've been finding is that they just kind of come to me, and if I'm in a mood to get serious when they do, I can forge ahead. I've been mulling over a riff on "O Little Town of Bethlehem." Maybe I'll see if I can get that one done. At this rate, I'll have a whole CDs-worth in another decade or so. :-)

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