Christmas is only a week away! My thoughts are turning to cookies and stockings and presents. And music! There’s nothing quite like a Christmas carol, whether sung off-key by a group of three-year-olds at a church pageant or in soaring harmony by a talented multi-voice choir in a major concert hall. But for the first part of the nineteenth century in England, carols were another thing entirely.
For one thing, you weren’t likely to find the better sorts out caroling. People singing songs door to door were more likely to be parties of drunken hooligans hoping to find more liquor along the way by performing or children begging. You wouldn't find elegant carolers like the ones in the picture until after Marissa's beloved Queen Victorian had been on the throne for a while. For another, a carol, or any music, was only sometimes sung in church services, and then only by the adults.
Of course, people did sing Christmas songs at home among family. Some Christmas music familiar today that would have been around then includes “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night” and “Hark! How All the Welkin Rings.” Don’t recognize the last one? Here’s the first stanza:
Hark, how all the welkin rings,
"Glory to the King of kings;
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!"
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
join the triumph of the skies;
universal nature say,
"Christ the Lord is born today!"
The welkin is the celestial sphere. So, all the angels were singing. Hark! Can you hear them? (Okay, I think you probably get it by now. This was the original version of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” The original tune was different too.) The song was written by Charles Wesley in the 1700s but was still being published for playing and singing under this title in 1875.
And speaking of music, be sure to sing “Happy Birthday” to Jane Austen. She turned 234 on Wednesday, December 16.
See us next week for a single post on Christmas Eve. Christmas blessings to you and yours, however you like to sing!