Lesser Known Christmas Carols

As a sequel to the Advent hymns, here are some Christmas carols that one rarely hears anymore.  You sometimes hear instrumental versions of them, but you certainly never sing them.  It’s a pity, because they’re beautiful songs that cover aspects of the Nativity that we often don’t think about otherwise.

Our first song has a special place in my heart because my parents had a picture book of it (and still do).  One of the countless Medieval French carols, it’s great with children and anyone who likes animals.  Such as, you know, me.

The Friendly Beasts

Jesus, our Brother, strong and good,
Was humbly born in a stable rude,
And the friendly beasts around Him stood,
Jesus, our Brother, strong and good.

“I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown,
“I carried His mother uphill and down,
I carried His mother to Bethlehem town;
I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown.

“I,” said the cow, all white and red,
“I gave Him my manger for His bed,
I gave Him hay to pillow His head;
I,” said the cow, all white and red.

“I,” said the sheep with curly horn,
“I gave Him my wool for His blanket warm,
He wore my coat on Christmas morn;
I,” said the sheep with curly horn.

“I,” said the dove, from the rafters high,
“I cooed Him to sleep that He should not cry,
We cooed Him to sleep, my mate and I;
I,” said the dove, from the rafters high.

Thus all the beasts, by some good spell,
In the stable dark were glad to tell
Of the gifts they gave Emmanuel,
The gifts they gave Emmanuel.

Never having listened to this song closely, I’d always assumed that the “little tiny child” was Baby Jesus, but no, Christ is not even mentioned in this song.  It’s a lament in the form of a lullaby for the children slain by Herod.  Bet you’ve never sung this one in church.

Coventry Carol

Lully, 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 young children to slay.

That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever morn and day
For Thy parting neither say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Another French carol, I love this next song for its upbeat tune and its utter lack of pretension.  Not many other songs (“Go Tell It on the Mountain” being a notable exception) capture the joy that inspires you to not only celebrate Christ’s birth, but to tell everyone else about it, too.

Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella

Bring a torch, Jeanette, Isabella
Bring a torch, come swiftly and run.
Christ is born, tell the folk of the village,
Jesus is sleeping in His cradle,
Ah, ah, beautiful is the mother,
Ah, ah, beautiful is her Son.

Hasten now, good folk of the village,
Hasten now, the Christ Child to see.
You will find Him asleep in a manger,
Quietly come and whisper softly,
Hush, hush, peacefully now He slumbers,
Hush, hush, peacefully now He sleeps.

The last song is technically not a song, but a poem.  I think of it as a song because I first heard it through a choral arrangement by my high school choir.  I like its simplicity and catechism-like structure, as well as its “cradle to the cross” theme.

The First Tree in the Greenwood

Now the holly bears a berry as white as the milk,
And Mary bore Jesus, all wrapped up in silk,
And Mary bore Jesus Christ,
Our Saviour for to be,
And the first tree in the greenwood, it was the holly.

Now the holly bears a berry as green as the grass,
And Mary bore Jesus, who died on the cross,
And Mary bore Jesus Christ,
Our Saviour for to be,
And the first tree in the greenwood, it was the holly.

Now the holly bears a berry as black as the coal,
And Mary bore Jesus who died for us all,
And Mary bore Jesus Christ,
Our Saviour for to be,
And the first tree in the greenwood, it was the holly.

Now the holly bears a berry, as blood is it red,
Then trust we our Saviour, who rose from the dead,
And Mary bore Jesus Christ,
Our Saviour for to be,
And the first tree in the greenwood, it was the holly.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s