Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Music


At a holiday gathering last week everyone present was asked to introduce themselves and tell what their favorite Christmas song was. I was quite far around the circle, so I had some time to think. The first thing I thought of was all the really horrible Christmas songs that I totally hate, and then the ones that are so old and hackneyed and worn out that I just can't bear to hear them any more. Amazingly some of those were touted as people's favorites. To each his own, I guess. There are a few Christmas songs that I do truly love. I can't think of a song more glorious than "For Unto us a Child is Born" from the Messiah. Well sung, it really gives me goosebumps. But a Christmas song that I have lately become very fond of is the one above—"Good King Wenceslas". That's the one I said was my favorite. It was one I sang as a child and never understood. That is because, I think, no one ever sang all the verses, which tell a story of the Good King and his page setting out through a blizzard to deliver food and firewood to a poor family. When the page was overcome by the bitter cold, his master told him to walk in his footsteps and he found that there was heat coming from the earth that sustained him through the storm. It is the story and the message I love.

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

Those last two lines,"Ye who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing"—that's the good part. You have to get to the very end. And I actually found a picture of King Wenceslas

I know Christmas is all about the birth of Christ, and this carol isn't that, but I love this carol because it is a message for all time.

In a more contemporary vein, I think this song, below, is my favorite. Maybe it isn't even truly a Christmas song, but it has that melancholy Christmas feeling that rings so true to me. I think I've posted it here before.


Do you have a favorite Christmas song?


  1. One of the great Anglican carols. We do not sing carols until Christmas eve and there are so many great ones. I am loving Annie Lenox's new Christmas CD which is all Anglican.

  2. Wenceslas sounds a lot like St Martin of Tours, who also has a song about him, at least in German. Martin gave half his coat to a beggar so he wouldn't freeze and later had a dream that he had clothed Jesus. He is celebrated as a kind and generous man on Martinmas in November. I hadn't heard about Wenceslas until I moved to Europe and visited The Czech republic. Obviously, he's well regarded there. My favorite Christmas songs are the German ones aimed at kids, but "Leise Riese der Schnee" (Slow Ride Through The Snow) is pleasing my right now. Maybe because I have no snowy weather.

  3. Terry - thank you - one of my favourites and Lorena is a fave singer....

  4. Thanks for this wonderful post.
    Here in Italy my prefered Christmas song is TU SCENDI DALLE STELLE.
    ciao ciao

  5. Gives me shivers. Thank you!

  6. My favourite is "Gaudete" by Steeleye Span.

  7. "Mary did you know?"

  8. Among my favorites:

    I Heard the Bells
    A Christmas Wish
    The Peace Carol

  9. The version of Oh Holy Night recorded by Pavarotti and Charlotte Church

  10. O Tannenbaum and Stille Nacht. I learned them in German in primary school and then years and years later followed a church group in Germany on Christmas Eve to a clearing in the woods with stars above and snow falling and they sang O Tannenbaum and Stille Nacht. Tears flowed and it was truly Christmas.

  11. I've always liked Good King Winceslas. Another favorite is In the Bleak Midwinter.

  12. I have always loved Good King Wenceslas--the song and the story. But you really turned me onto Joni Mitchell with "River" (which I thought was named "Comin' On Christmas" LOL). I happened onto your blog a couple of years ago when you posted it and I had to find it on a JM album, so I bought three different ones and enjoy all her music, but especially this one--my favorite!
    Our choir sang "Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella" and "Tomorrow Will Be My Dancing Day" last Sunday--old English pieces that we sang in high school chorus--what renewal of great memories!

  13. Nice percussion on that version of the Good King.

    I'm a sucker for almost all the old stale songs. It's particularly so because I don't get exposed to them since I don't do much Christmas shopping or radio listening where they are mangled so. I think I can take a pass on The Little Drummer Boy, though.

    And I do love that You-Tube in the food court with the Halleluah (sp) Chorus -- Live singing is the best and the You-Tube captures some of that. The Messiah is full of great moments -- and devilishly difficult to sing along with. On the other hand, Johnny Cash doing Christmas is just about the right range and speed:-)

  14. I love your perspective! Thank you so much for having this blog and letting us know your perspective. I have two Joanie Mitchell CD's, got them out, and found The River on one of them!

    One of my mantras in life is No regrets, Coyote!. Have you heard that one?

  15. Anonymous5:10 PM

    WHat a lovely setting of Good King Wenceslas! And Jon's river is my favorite Christmas song too!