Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Sing a Song of Christmas...18th century style

Bruton Parish Church, Colonial Williamsburg, VA*
~First, a brief but important (to me, at least!) announcement: If you happen to be fortunate enough to be in Edenton, North Carolina this Friday or Saturday, Dec 13 and 14 to see and participate in the free and paid events of the beautiful annual Christmas Candlelight Tour, stop by for complimentary confections from 1-5pm at the Chowan Arts Council Gallery, 504 S Broad St, where I will be having a book signing of my novel Sea Snow, the gentle haunting of a 19th century lighthouse. For more information about this special town-wide Edenton offering see:
(free egg nog and cookies and goodies galore!)~

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas..." sings out from radios, televisions, store speakers, and cell phone ring tones but, in the 18th century, the weeks leading up to Christmas Day were times of quiet introspection called Advent. Many present-day churches still follow the same liturgical calendar encouraging their congregants to spend the four pre-Christmas Day weeks meditating upon the preparation of their hearts and souls for the coming of Christ into the world, but as soon as they step back into day-to-day life, I think most cannot ignore the festive atmosphere that surrounds us this time of year. I, for one, believe it's possible to merge faith and festivities but in parts of 18th century America, that was not the case. As a matter of fact, thanks to Puritan influences, most of 1700' s New England completely turned its back on anything that set Christmas apart from any other time of the year. the South where the Anglican church was dominant, Christmas was celebrated, albeit more conservatively than we now do.

An integral part of 18th century Advent and Christmastide activities was the singing of songs of the season. Several of our well-loved Christmas hymns and carols were written in the 1700's. The lyrics were sometimes set to old, traditional tunes of Great Britain and Europe and the carols we sing today are sometimes set to music composed a century later. The heart of the songs, however, lies in the words themselves and today I would like to share some of them in the form of spiritual poetry. Sometimes we are so caught up in the melodic singing, we do not pay attention to the words. So, in the spirit of an 18th century Advent and Christmas, here are three songs brought to us directly from the writers of the time. In some, I have omitted the repetitious lines used when singing and I challenge you to read them without hearing the musical notes in your head (harder than you think!)

"Le sommeil de l'enfant Jésus "by Francesco Travisani, 1656-1746

"Come Thou Long Expected Jesus"
(an Advent hymn by Charles Wesley, 1701-1788,  also the author of  
"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing")

Come Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in Thee
Israel's strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth Thou art
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart
Born Thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a King
Born to reign in us forever
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring
By Thine own eternal spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone
By Thine all sufficient merit
Raise us to Thy glorious throne

"Oh, Come All Ye Faithful"
 (as "Adeste Fideles" by John Francis Wade, 1711-1786)

"Nativity" by Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre, 1714-1789
Oh, come, all ye faithful, 
Joyful and triumphant!
Oh, come ye, oh, come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him
Born the king of angels:
Oh, come, let us adore him,

Christ the Lord.

Highest, most holy,
Light of light eternal,
Born of a virgin,
A mortal he comes;
Son of the Father 
Now in flesh appearing!
Oh, come, let us adore him,

Christ the Lord.

Sing, choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation,
Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!
Glory to God
In the highest:
Oh, come, let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

Yea, Lord, we greet thee,
Born this happy morning;
Jesus, to thee be glory given!
Word of the Father, 
Now in flesh appearing!
Oh, come, let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

"Joy To The World"
(by Isaac Watts, 1674-1748)
"The Holy Family" by Giuseppe Antonio Petrini, 1677-1758
Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing.
Joy to the world! the Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!


*By Rainer Halama (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Now that's very interesting.