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Christmas in Ritual and Tradition

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Author Topic: Christmas in Ritual and Tradition  (Read 5485 times)
Erika Zimney
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« Reply #15 on: December 25, 2008, 10:53:21 pm »

Before I close this study with a survey of Christmas poetry in England after the Reformation, it may be interesting to follow the developments in Protestant Germany. The Reformation gave a great impetus to German religious song, and we owe to it some of the finest of Christmas hymns. It is no doubt largely due to Luther, that passionate lover of music and folk-poetry, that hymns have practically become the liturgy of German Protestantism; yet he did but give typical expression to the natural instincts of his countrymen for song. Luther, though a rebel, was no Puritan; we can hardly call him an iconoclast; he had a conservative mind, which only gradually became loosened from its old attachments. His was an essentially artistic nature: “I would fain,” he said, “see all arts, especially music, in the service of Him who has given and created them,” and in the matter of hymnody he continued, in many respects, the mediaeval German tradition. Homely, kindly, a lover of children, he had a deep feeling for the festival of Christmas; and not only did he translate into German “A solis ortus cardine” and “Veni, redemptor p. 71 gentium,” but he wrote for his little son Hans one of the most delightful and touching of all Christmas hymns—“Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her.”

“Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her,


Ich bring euch gute neue Mär,


Der guten Mär bring ich so viel,


Davon ich singen und sagen will.


Euch ist ein Kindlein heut gebor'n


Von einer Jungfrau auserkor'n,


Ein Kindelein so zart und fein,


Das soll eu'r Freud und Wonne sein.


*       *       *       *       *


Merk auf, mein Herz, und sich dort hin:


Was liegt doch in dem Kripplein drin?


Wess ist das schöne Kindelein?


Es ist das liebe Jesulein.


*       *       *       *       *


Ach Herr, du Schöpfer aller Ding,


Wie bist du worden so gering,


Dass du da liegst auf dürrem Gras,


Davon ein Rind und Esel ass?


*       *       *       *       *


Ach, mein herzliebes Jesulein,


Mach dir ein rein sanft Bettelein,


Zu ruhen in mein's Herzens Schrein,


Dass ich nimmer vergesse dein.


*       *       *       *       *


Davon ich allzeit fröhlich sei,


Zu springen, singen immer frei


Das rechte Lied dem Gottessohn


Mit Herzenslust, den süssen Ton.” 29 3-29


p. 72 “Vom Himmel hoch” has qualities of simplicity, directness, and warm human feeling which link it to the less ornate forms of carol literature. Its first verse is adapted from a secular song; its melody may, perhaps, have been composed by Luther himself. There is another Christmas hymn of Luther's, too—“Vom Himmel kam der Engel Schar”—written for use when “Vom Himmel hoch” was thought too long, and he also composed additional verses for the mediaeval “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ.”

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