Thursday, 6 December 2012

School Carol Service, Mediaeval and Pagan Carols

I enjoyed the carol service held at a Roman Catholic Church with a choir composed of two streams of sixty Year Three children amongst whom was my grandson, who sang joyfully.

At the beginning some of the children were on the stage and others, carrying candles preceded down the aisle, all the children singing the Military Wives carol, Stronger Together. Neither Stronger Together nor some mediaeval carols sung at Christmas time are nativity carols.

Some pagan carols had vestiges of heathen beliefs and others centred on the world around our forebears and nature. For example, the opening couplets of a carol about the holly and the ivy are:

"Nay,luy,nay,hyt shal not be iwys,
Let Holy hafe the maystry, as the manner ys (is).

Holy stond (stand) in the hall, fayre to behold;
Iuy stond without the dore; she ys ful sore a cold.

Holy and hys merry men, thy dawsyn and they syng;
Iuy and her maydeyns, they wepyn and they wryng (their hands)."

Carols such as this one were not intended to be sung in church but by ordinary people and the mummers who travelled from place to place.

However, the word picture of the holly and the ivy puts me in mind of one of my favourite carols, The Holly and the Ivy, the imagery of which I have enjoyed since childhood.

Yesterday, the Year Three choir sang the traditional favourites, Once in Royal David’s City, Away in a Manger and O Come All Ye Faithful. The children also sang nativity carols I am less familiar with, including a version of Unto Us A Child is Born, which I had not heard before, Midnight, Starry Night, and The Gift.

Finally there was a Carol called Turn Down The Lights about the night before Christmas the first verse of which is:

"Turn down the lights and watch the fire glowing,
Colours turn bright and warm.
Now is the time for waiting and knowing,
Christmas will come with the dawn."

As the seven year olds, dressed in their blue and grey uniforms sang, in my mind’s eye I saw seven year olds, garbed in old fashioned clothes, eyes shining by fire and candlelight, who were excited by the coming of the Christ Child and the festivities they looked forward to. The link between modern day children and those in times past touched my heart.

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