Carols and poems to savour: Christmas, Hanukkah, solstice

Lead image to illustrate a blog about festive carols and poems

Christmas is a time of family get-togethers, carol singing and joy for many, not least when the excitement of children is so infectious. Not everyone, of course, is a fan of the festive season, for all sorts of valid reasons. Still, whether Hanukkah, Christmas, or the winter solstice, the end-of-year rituals are hard to ignore completely.

Here’s a very brief selection of festive carols, songs and poems. What are your favourites, or those that get your goat? (Please feel free to add a comment.) Whether in a big crowd, a smaller get-together, or on your own, here’s to a restful, serene and peaceful end of year. For now, though, a little music?

Wie treu sind deine Blätter

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
wie treu sind deine Blätter!
Du grünst nicht nur zur Sommerzeit,
Nein auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
wie treu sind deine Blätter!

Vielen Dank to german-way.com for these lyrics. I listened to quite a few versions of this carol before deciding on the Nat King Cole one (making it my festive – and largely ignored: how rude! – post on LinkedIn).

His accent in German adds to its charm, in my humble and festive opinion. Other arrangements I listened to? The three tenors (Pavarotti and pals), Kiri Te Kanawa and Helene Fischer.

The version on the Weihnachten channel on YouTube came a close second, not least because of the lovely orchestration.

Doughty donkey

A friend in France had two donkeys until recently, when the marvel that was Muguette died, leaving no doubt a very sad companion Zorba behind.

Other than being sure that I love them, my donkey expertise is pretty limited so far. However, I do know they are social animals and don’t do well on their own.

So it seems only right and fitting, with a nod and a hug to Zorba, to include an excerpt from the lovely carol by British composer Eric Boswell.

Little donkey, little donkey on the dusty road
Got to keep on plodding onwards with your precious load
Been a long time, little donkey, through the winter's night
Don't give up now, little donkey
Bethlehem's in sight

Credit: lyrics.com
Image of a donkey and a horse to illustrate the Christmas carol Little Donkey

A recent blog: Frugal Christmas sound appealing? 12-ish ideas, invitations (should-free zone)

Love and light

Hanukkah is behind us now, as the eight-day festival of lights ended at nightfall on 15 December this year. Couldn’t we all use a little more brightness and hope?

Then light three, and then light four—
every dusk one candle more

Till all eight burn bright and high,
honoring a day gone by

When the Temple was restored,
rescued from the Syrian lord,

And an eight-day feast proclaimed—
The Festival of Lights—well named

To celebrate the joyous day
when we regained the right to pray
to our one God in our own way.

Light the Festive Candles by Aileen Fisher (Poetry Foundation)

Among true Hanukkah traditions, according to Britannica – as well as lighting candles on a nine-branched menorah, a candelabrum used in Jewish worship – is eating potato pancakes called latkes and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts).

You may also like the animated illustration and accompaniment to a Hanukkah card on greetings-card maker Jacquie Lawson’s website.

Admittedly, no stranger to a hydrangea, my choice was swayed by those lovely blooms as part of the package.

Photo of a hydrangea to illustrate a blog about Hanukkah poems and Christmas carols
Hanukkah Hydrangeas | Jacquie Lawson Cards

Solstice sparrow

Spare a thought for the solstice celebrants, out on those wide open plains of Stonehenge – good and blustery. No finer way to blow away the cobwebs, time outside in winter…

A related blog, from a while ago: Certain age? Aren’t we all. Six ideas to get outside more (beyond the screens)

(The excitement generated by a hot beverage, as travel writer Bill Bryson has said, even better after a hike in the cold. Or maybe a cosy pub and a decent pint of the black stuff in good company. The things that dreams are made of…)

The sight of a robin or a sparrow is a simple pleasure whatever the season. So, about ten poems in, while looking for inspiration, no surprise that this was the excerpt for me.

This morning there is a sparrow
perched on a telephone line behind the house
flinging his song to the wind.
It is raining and cold.
I know that getting out of the rain
is the beginning of understanding only
that it is still the dream of music
which keeps us going

Winter Solstice by Michael Hogan (PoemHunter.com)

Image of a sparrow to illustrate a blog about Christmas carols and festive poems

For more on music and the winter solstice, see this article, but then carry on reading my blog 🙂 The Winter Solstice in Song: A Short List for the Longest Night | Making Music Magazine

While looking up Winter Journey by Franz Schubert, among the Making Music mentions, I see there’s a 2022 documentary still on BBC iPlayer, featuring the baritone Benjamin Appl.

With its Alpine backdrop, that might just make some fine festive viewing, in the company of a warming, medicinal schnifter and a log fire. Schäferhund Seamus nearby? Natürlich.

Not so dreary?

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone

What started off as a poem in 1872 or so by Christina Rossetti went on to become a carol when Gustav Holst (he of The Planets) composed the melody at the start of the next century, lyricsforchristmas.com tells us.

There’s something so satisfying about those four lines that start the carol. Bleak as winter can be, it’s also a beautiful, invigorating season too, especially when we’re able to get out in the elements. (Feel free to disagree, needless to say.)

In the approaching depths of winter, we can recommit to kindness, peace, and joy

Tom Nichols, staff writer, The Atlantic

True enough, eternity can get a little long towards the end, and on a raw day at the end of March it can feel that winter might never fade into spring. But after the solstice, and those daily extra minutes of daylight, that dour day will also have a shorter night…

Carol to set cares aside

Carol of the Bells is a creation of the Ukrainian composer, Mykola Leontovych, more than a hundred years ago.

Hark! how the bells, sweet silver bells
All seem to say “Throw cares away.”
Christmas is here, bringing good cheer
To young and old, meek and the bold

Lyrics: genius.com

Based on a Ukrainian folk chant called Shchedryk, it’s a carol that’s beKrimbled movies including

  • Home Alone
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • a hectic rendition by The Muppets
  • the 1999 version of A Christmas Carol

(Sources: Voice of America, tvovermind.com/imdb.com)

There’s something so wonderfully, well, Christmassy about this carol — enough to unGrich the most bah-humbug of those not so keen on Christmas? Maybe for a minute or two, at least.

In this YouTube version of the carol you can follow the notes as you listen. (Hard-working Montreal sopranos.)

*****

Meek or bold, young and old, my sheepdog Seamus and I wish you a very Happy Christmas. With bells on.

(The Muppet chooks’ version of Joy to the World, below, is gloriously silly. Seamus – who’s all about having fun, the wow of now – and I hope you enjoy it too.)

Image credits: shogun, mostafa_meraji, 165106 on Pixabay; Tomoko Uji, Aaron Burden on Unsplash.

*What’s your favourite festive carol, poem or song, and why?
Or maybe there’s a schmalzy elevator tune that turns you into a Grinch….
Please add a comment below, I’ll be sure to reply to each one.
(I have a target of 10 reader comments for this blog.)*

8 comments on “Carols and poems to savour: Christmas, Hanukkah, solstice

  1. Alison McLean on

    This was a lovely read indeed. The Muppets’ version of Joy to the World really cheered me up. Zorba now has a new mate called Pinnochio whose owner died the same day as Muguette died. He is very old too (34) and very alpha so bossing Zorba around, which is good for him as he has started to move around more and look interested in life again. I shall sing Little Donkey to them on Christmas Day.
    I’m staying alone this year, no energy left to travel this time.
    Lots of warm and Yuletide thoughts and prayers,
    Alison

    Reply
    • Brian McGee on

      Great to hear that Joy to the World and the chucks cheered you up. When I get chickens I’ll do my best to teach them well…
      What lovely news about Zorba’s new fieldmate – Pinnochio is clearly not short of personality!
      Yes it can take a lot of energy to travel, not least at Christmas, so I hope you and the donks have a serene time at the homestead.
      Thanks a lot for your comment. Merry Christmas! B&Sxx

      Reply
  2. Marianne on

    Super informative! Thanks Bri. I am reading Nigel Slater’s Christmas Chronicles and have realised how much I enjoy finding out the origins of things that are commonplace around Christmas, so I was very interested to read your blog.

    Reply
    • Brian McGee on

      Great to hear that you enjoyed the blog; thanks a lot for your comment. That book sounds interesting. I like Nigel Slater’s recipes, so I’ll look out for his book. I’ve started work on a blog about seasonal food and cooking in Jan/Feb, so I hope to include a NS recipe in that.

      Reply
    • Brian McGee on

      It’s a lovely carol, isn’t it? Lyrics included. There’s a nice quote from the composer about simple pleasures. I might just update the blog and add it 🙂 Thanks a lot for your comment.

      Reply
  3. Martin Watt on

    Thanks for this Brian – I can testify that Carol of the Bells is great fun to sing as I did last weekend at a Christmas concert.

    Reply
    • Brian McGee on

      Glad you enjoyed it Martin; thanks for your comment! Yes, it’s a real pleasure to sing. Very good for us in all sorts of ways, I bet. Mmm, maybe there’s a blog in that…

      Reply

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