I was coming home from Manchester for Christmas; it was Christmas Eve; snow had fallen steadily and the M1 was closed. I spent hours huddled in a freezing coach station in Birmingham that smelt of wee with the bus driver and several other passengers as we waited for news that the road had been cleared and we could carry on our journey. I just started singing Silent Night – I thought I was singing to myself until other people joined in. It was a magical moment.
In the Bleak Mid-winter was the first solo I ever sang. I went to a C of E primary school and we were taught the carols for school assemblies. I loved the words and the sentiments – there were often sheep and donkeys and little baby Jesus lying in a manger. It was all jolly lovely I thought.
Once my siblings and I made a tape for our cousin, who lived overseas, onto which we recorded ourselves reading stories, singing songs and playing instruments. My brother sang Once in Royal David’s City and he could hardly get the words out through his explosive nervous laughter. Every time I hear about the lowly cattle shed I think of him.
Recently I was having a discussion about how I hated ‘modern’ Christmas music, such as Rocking Around the Christmas Tree, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and the like. I was horrified to find that someone whom I previously liked and even respected had a secret penchant for Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas. I’ll never look at her the same way again. Fairytale of New York is about the only decent non-carol Christmas song I can tolerate. I was at this concert.
At the local English language school where they teach English to foreign language students, the ‘festive season’ has dispensed with carols altogether – many of them celebrate a denominational religious holiday which is not accepted in current culturally sensitive circles, but also the language is too archaic and difficult to understand.
It always was. My father, who hates blind faith, insisted that if I was going to sing those ‘infernal tunes’ around the house, I should at least know what they meant. When I was about eight, he sat me down and we went painstakingly through the lyrics of Good King Wenceslas until I fully understood the socialist principles of the 10th Century Bohemian king, who believed in helping the poor.
I loved the part where the page and monarch went forth together ‘through the rude wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.’ I have often thought of this carol when trudging through snow on seemingly endless walks or skiing trips when I have trailed behind Him Outdoors, following in his footsteps. The merry tune and the positive thoughts it inspires does indeed help to ‘freeze my blood less coldly.’ Father dear wasn’t so keen on the good king’s politics or the inherent Christian message, but I think he may find more cheer in the fact that the regal Wenceslas is also the patron saint of beer.