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Thursday, 24 December 2009
Christmas Carols XI

This, some of you might be pleased to discover, is the final post in this series. The posts have been fun to write and I hope that you have enjoyed some of them and some of the links to the music.

You’ll no doubt have noted that Rebecca posted here Robert Herrick’s (1591-1674) merry Carol. It’s a slightly back to front Carol when one compares it to those we usually sing in that its symbolism and imagery are drawn from the warmer seasons of the year. That’s not surprising if one considers Herrick’s nature – by all accounts he was a happy man with a well-developed sense of humour. He was also an inventive man and that Carol demonstrates a little of that, I think. Rebecca didn’t post the Choral Flourish that led into the Carol. I rather like it so here it is:
What sweeter music can we bring,
Than a Carol, for to sing
The Birth of this our heavenly King?
Awake the Voice! Awake the String!
Heart, Ear, and Eye, and every thing
Awake! the while the active Finger
Runs division with the Singer.
However, let’s move on with the story of Carols. The final part of the story of English Carolling started on Christmas Eve in AD1880. Even though ancient Roman Christians may have sung Carols in the worship, and some medieval Churches definitely did, there was no real tradition of doing so in England – and after the Reformation it looked as if the Carol would die out completely. However, as I mentioned in a previous post in this series, Victorian scholars collected and re-popularised the Christmas Carol and the tradition of singing them has since gone from strength to strength.
So, as the tradition revived something quite remarkable happened on that Christmas Eve in AD1880. It happened at Truro in Cornwall. In AD1877 Edward White Benson had been consecrated the first Bishop of the new See of Truro (created in AD1876) and work had just started on the new gothic revival Cathedral so he was, by all accounts, using a large shed as his temporary Cathedral. He was worried about the excessive drinking that the townsfolk indulged in of Christmas Eve so he devised a plan to get them into Church.
His plan was quite simple. He wrote the Order for a new Christmas Eve Church Service and he held that Service at ten o’clock on Christmas Eve and for the first time since the Reformation Christmas Carols were sung in a Cathedral. Today we know that Service as ‘Nine Lessons and Carols’. It’s been slightly modified since Bishop Benson first wrote it and today the Truro Cathedral Service is not the one we usually think of – we tend to remember the one which the BBC broadcasts each year from King’s College, Cambridge – but it all started in Truro and, as you would expect, it still goes on in that lovely new Cathedral in beautiful old Cornwall and it’s there that you can find, each and every year, the townsfolk and the few winter tourists gathering in the true Spirit of Christmas. It’s a wonderful experience!
New Christmas Carols and Christmas songs continue to be written and some will last and some will not but the tradition of raising our voices in celebratory Hymns and songs at Christmastide will go on. Some songs of Christmas, like 'White Christmas', we don’t sing for ourselves but prefer to listen to, but they are still Christmas songs and they still contain something of the traditional imagery and symbolism of Christmas.
Thank you for reading these eleven posts – and yes, eleven was deliberate – and may all of you have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Posted on 12/24/2009 7:18 AM by John M. Joyce
24 Dec 2009
Send an emailJohn M. J.

Mary and Esme,

Thank you both for your kind comments. I am glad that you enjoyed the series and thank you both for taking the trouble to comment and to join in, as I see you have done at and at

I had great fun sharing with you some of what I was taught as a youngster by greater people than I will ever be.

Now, there only two-hundred and seventy-one shopping days left until next Christmas. Aargh! So little time, so much to do!

24 Dec 2009
Send an emailEsmerelda Weatherwax

Just got back from playing 5 Carols at the informal candlelight service. Our lay reader introduced each one with a bit of its lighter history (Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Mrs Simpsons pinched our King, being one such ) and it was good to have your series as a more serious foundation.
Merry Christmas to you.

24 Dec 2009
Send an emailMary Jackson

And the same to you. This has been a delightful series, which I have dipped in and out of in between rushing around.