25 Songs of Christmas: 12.20.16


The possibility of a white Christmas is in the forecast, so I thought this hauntingly beautiful piece by Loreena McKennitt would be appropriate. Fittingly called Snow, the lyrics evoke the experience of being surrounded by snow fall: the softness, the muted sounds, the whiteness.

“Then all is silent and the snow falls, settling soft and slow.
The evening deepens and the grey
folds closer, earth and sky.
The world seems shrouded, far away.
Its noises sleep, and I,
as secret as yon buried stream,
plod dumbly on and dream.”

25 Songs of December: 12.19.16

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The horizon doesn’t look so bright as we look toward the New Year, so this carol seems appropriate today. “Brightest and Best of the Sons of the morning, dawn on our darkness and lend us thine aid.” There are many melodies that can be used with these lyrics; this version by Kathy Mattea is a beautiful minor tune.

25 Songs of Christmas: 12.17.16


We are four days from the winter solstice, and overnight the earth turned white and ice coated the shrubs and birdfeeders. So it seems most appropriate that today’s Christmas tune is In the Bleak Midwinter. The words are those of English poet Christina Rosetti. There are hundreds of recordings of this song, but I chose Sarah McLachlan’s version from her Wintersong album.

25 Songs of Christmas: 12.15.16

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Anyone who has grown up on a farm knows how peaceful a barn can be when it’s dark and cold outside and the animals inside are resting and shuffling in the hay.   This carol, The Friendly Beasts, conjures up that memory for me, and images of a “stable rude.”  The carol dates back to the 12th century.    Many people have recorded this song, from  Peter Paul and Mary to Garth Brooks.  The  version that I chose is by Sufjan Stevens, from his Songs of Christmas album.

25 Songs of Christmas: 12.14.16


The other day I was reminiscing about Christmas caroling in western NY with our little country church. We were hard-core: bundled up, a caravan of cars traveling through the snow covered hills and piling out at the homes of shut-ins and elderly folks and other people on the list each year. We would sing a few carols and then shout out the last song —We Wish You a Merry Christmas! —cheeks pink with cold and clouds of breath hanging in the air. We also knew which houses had cookies and homemade caramels that they passed out to us after we sang. Today’s Christmas song is Soul Cake from Sting’s If On A Winter’s Night” album. Soul cakes are small spiced cakes marked with a cross that originated in the middle ages. Thought to be associated with All Hallows Eve, when children would roam the streets singing and asking for soul cakes, the song has become connected with Christmas and caroling. 

25 Songs of Christmas: 12.13.16


Today’s song is from the Chieftan’s Bells of Dublin Christmas album. Il Est Nè, Le Divin Enfant features Canadian folk singers Kate & Anna McGarrigle. Although I remember the tune well, I couldn’t find the translation that I remember from my childhood. “Born is He, little child divine” is as much as I can remember, but I do love this charming Breton carol.

25 Songs of Christmas: 12.12.16

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Whenever I would listen to the Winter Solstice V album from Windham Hill, I loved this pensive track, My Heart is Always Moving, with its gorgeous violin and organ building through the song, but I didn’t know much about it. The song is a Danish/Norwegian carol from 1732, by a Danish Lutheran bishop, Hans Adolph Brorson.  The English translation of the lyrics is as follows:

My heart always wanders to where Jesus once was born.
There I collect and unify my thoughts.
There my longing finds its home, there my faith has its treasure;
I can never forget you O blessed Christmas night

The sparrow has its nest and safe place of rest
A swallow can expect a peaceful night’s shelter
The lion has his cave where he can find rest
— Must my God take shelter in another’s stable and straw?

Ach! I want to open my heart and soul
And full of longing sigh, oh come Jesus here within
This is no stranger’s housing, you bought it of yourself
Here can you safely stay, swaddled in my heart

I want to scatter palm branches around your crib,
For you, for you alone will I live and will I die.
Oh Come let my soul find within you its pure blissful moment,
That you were born here deep in my heart’s depths