Christmas Carols and the Crib.
This evening my grandson will sing with his school choir in church. I’m not sure which Christmas carols will be sung but I am sure I shall enjoy them as much as Christians did in the mediaeval era.
The sight of the crib will move me as much as it did when I was a small girl, although the figure of the new-born Christ child will not be added until Christmas morning, something the children will look forward too.
As a child I did not know that St Francis of Assisi -1181-1226 -, who I admire, was the first person to display a crib, and a barn with Mary and Joseph, Shepherds and the Three Wise Men as well as animals; and I did not know he introduced Christmas carols in vernacular which ordinary people could understand. (Previously, Christ’s birth was celebrated with hymns sung in Latin.) Some of the carols were sung around the nativity scene, some included dances.
The carols composed by St Francis and members of the order he founded fulfilled their purpose, that of reminding peasants about the teachings of Christ. St Francis’ carols became known in Spain, France and Germany, and in 1224 arrived in England. The first known English carol, ‘A Child is Boren Amonges Man’ was found in notes on a sermon penned by a Franciscan friar. Subsequently, Englishmen composed nativity carols, one of the earliest of which begins with the charming words – I saw a swete seemly sight, A blissful byred, a blossom bright, That murnyng made mirth of mange (among) A mayden moder, mek and myld.” This is not a carol I will hear this evening, but I know I shall enjoy the service and while listening, be aware of those who came before me to celebrate the coming of the Christ Child.