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Christmas in Ritual and Tradition

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Erika Zimney
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« Reply #15 on: December 25, 2008, 10:44:33 pm »


From “Laude di Frate Jacopone da Todi”

(Florence, 1490).
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Erika Zimney
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« Reply #16 on: December 25, 2008, 10:44:47 pm »

“Ne la degna stalla del dolce Bambino

Gli Angeli cantano d’ intorno al piccolino;

Cantano e gridano gli Angeli diletti,

Tutti riverenti timidi e subietti,p. 41

Al Bambolino principe de gli eletti,

Che nudo giace nel pungente spino.

*       *       *       *       *

Il Verbo divino, che è sommo sapiente,

In questo dì par che non sappia niente,

Guardal su’ l fieno, che gambetta piangente,

Como elli non fusse huomo divino.” 15 2-13

Here, again, are some sweet and homely lines about preparation for the Infant Saviour:—

“Andiamo a lavare

La casa a nettare,

Che non trovi bruttura.

Poi el menaremo,

Et gli daremo

Ben da ber’ e mangiare.

Un cibo espiato,

Et d’ or li sia dato

Senza alcuna dimura.

Lo cor adempito

Dagiamoli fornito

Senza odio ne rancura.” 16 2-14

p. 42 There have been few more rapturous poets than Jacopone; men deemed him mad; but, “if he is mad,” says a modern Italian writer, “he is mad as the lark”—“Nessun poeta canta a tutta gola come questo frate minore. S’ è pazzo, è pazzo come l’ allodola.”

To him is attributed that most poignant of Latin hymns, the “Stabat Mater dolorosa”; he wrote also a joyous Christmas pendant to it:—

“Stabat Mater speciosa,

Juxta foenum gaudiosa,

Dum jacebat parvulus.

Cujus animam gaudentem,

Laetabundam ac ferventem,

Pertransivit jubilus.” 17 2-15

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Erika Zimney
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« Reply #17 on: December 25, 2008, 10:45:01 pm »

In the fourteenth century we find a blossoming forth of Christmas poetry in another land, Germany. 2-16 There are indeed Christmas and Epiphany passages in a poetical Life of Christ by Otfrid of Weissenburg in the ninth century, and a twelfth-century poem by Spervogel, “Er ist gewaltic unde starc,” opens with a mention of Christmas, but these are of little importance for us. The fourteenth century shows the first real outburst, and that is traceable, in part at least, to the mystical movement in the Rhineland caused by the preaching of the great Dominican, Eckhart of Strasburg, and his followers. It was a movement towards inward piety as distinguished from, though not excluding, external observances, which made its way largely by sermons listened to by great congregations in the towns. Its impulse came not from the monasteries proper, but from the convents of Dominican friars, and it was for Germany in the fourteenth century something like what Franciscanism had been for Italy in the thirteenth. One of the central doctrines of the school p. 43 was that of the Divine Birth in the soul of the believer; according to Eckhart the soul comes into immediate union with God by “bringing forth the Son” within itself; the historic Christ is the symbol of the divine humanity to which the soul should rise: “when the soul bringeth forth the Son,” he says, “it is happier than Mary.” 2-17 Several Christmas sermons by Eckhart have been preserved; one of them ends with the prayer, “To this Birth may that God, who to-day is new born as man, bring us, that we, poor children of earth, may be born in Him as God; to this may He bring us eternally! Amen.” 2-18 With this profound doctrine of the Divine Birth, it was natural that the German mystics should enter deeply into the festival of Christmas, and one of the earliest of German Christmas carols, “Es komt ein schif geladen,” is the work of Eckhart's disciple, John Tauler (d. 1361). It is perhaps an adaptation of a secular song:—

“A ship comes sailing onwards

With a precious freight on board;

It bears the only Son of God,

It bears the Eternal Word.”

The doctrine of the mystics, “Die in order to live,” fills the last verses:—

“Whoe'er would hope in gladness

To kiss this Holy Child,

Must suffer many a pain and woe,

Patient like Him and mild;

Must die with Him to evil

And rise to righteousness,

That so with Christ he too may share

Eternal life and bliss.” 2-19

To the fourteenth century may perhaps belong an allegorical carol still sung in both Catholic and Protestant Germany:—

“Es ist ein Ros entsprungen

Aus einer Wurzel zart,p. 44

Als uns die Alten sungen,

Von Jesse kam die Art,

Und hat ein Blümlein bracht,

Mitten im kalten Winter,

Wohl zu der halben Nacht.

Das Röslein, das ich meine,

Davon Jesajas sagt,

Hat uns gebracht alleine

Marie, die reine Magd.

Aus Gottes ew'gem Rat

Hat sie ein Kind geboren

Wohl zu der halben Nacht.” 18 2-20

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Erika Zimney
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« Reply #18 on: December 25, 2008, 10:45:25 pm »

In a fourteenth-century Life of the mystic Heinrich Suso it is told how one day angels came to him to comfort him in his sufferings, how they took him by the hand and led him to dance, while one began a glad song of the child Jesus, “In dulci jubilo.” To the fourteenth century, then, dates back that most delightful of German carols, with its interwoven lines of Latin. I may quote the fine Scots translation in the “Godlie and Spirituall Sangis” of 1567:—

“In dulci Jubilo, Now lat us sing with myrth and jo

Our hartis consolatioun lyis in praesepio,

And schynis as the Sone, Matris in gremio,

Alpha es et O, Alpha es et O.

O Jesu parvule! I thrist sore efter thé,p. 45

Confort my hart and mynde, O puer optime,

God of all grace sa kynde, et princeps gloriae

Trahe me post te, Trahe me post te.

Ubi sunt gaudia, in ony place bot thair,

Quhair that the Angellis sing Nova cantica,

Bot and the bellis ring in regis curia,

God gif I war thair, God gif I war thair.” 2-21

The music of “In dulci jubilo” 19 has, with all its religious feeling, something of the nature of a dance, and unites in a strange fashion solemnity, playfulness, and ecstatic delight. No other air, perhaps, shows so perfectly the reverent gaiety of the carol spirit.

The fifteenth century produced a realistic type of German carol. Here is the beginning of one such:—

“Da Jesu Krist geboren wart,

do was es kalt;

in ain klaines kripplein

er geleget wart.

Da stunt ain esel und ain rint,

die atmizten über das hailig kint

gar unverborgen.

Der ain raines herze hat, der darf nit sorgen.” 20 2-22

It goes on to tell in naïve language the story of the wanderings of the Holy Family during the Flight into Egypt.

This carol type lasted, and continued to develop, in Austria and the Catholic parts of Germany through the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, and even in the nineteenth. In Carinthia in the early nineteenth century, almost every parish had its local poet, who added new songs to the old treasury. 2-23 Particularly popular were the Hirtenlieder or shepherd songs, in which the peasant worshippers joined themselves to the shepherds of Bethlehem, and sought to share their devout p. 46 emotions. Often these carols are of the most rustic character and in the broadest dialect. They breathe forth a great kindliness and homeliness, and one could fill pages with quotations. Two more short extracts must, however, suffice to show their quality.

How warm and hearty is their feeling for the Child:—

“Du herzliabste Muater, gib Acht auf dös Kind,

Es is ja gar frostig, thuas einfatschen gschwind.

Und du alter Voda, decks Kindlein schen zua,

Sonst hats von der Kölden und Winden kan Ruah.

Hiazt nemen mir Urlaub, o gettliches Kind,

Thua unser gedenken, verzeich unser Sünd.

Es freut uns von Herzen dass d'ankomen bist;

Es hätt uns ja niemand zu helfen gewist.” 21 2-24

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Erika Zimney
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« Reply #19 on: December 25, 2008, 10:45:55 pm »

And what fatherly affection is here:—

“Das Kind is in der Krippen glögn,

So herzig und so rar!

Mei klâner Hansl war nix dgögn,

Wenn a glei schener war.

Kolschwarz wie d'Kirchen d'Augen sein,

Sunst aber kreidenweiss;

Die Händ so hübsch recht zart und fein,

I hans angrürt mit Fleiss.

Aft hats auf mi an Schmutza gmacht,

An Höscheza darzue;

O warst du mein, hoan i gedacht,

Werst wol a munter Bue.

Dahoam in meiner Kachelstub

Liess i brav hoazen ein,

Do in den Stâl kimt überâl

Der kalte Wind herein.” 22 2-25

p. 47 We have been following on German ground a mediaeval tradition that has continued unbroken down to modern days; but we must now take a leap backward in time, and consider the beginnings of the Christmas carol in England.

Not till the fifteenth century is there any outburst of Christmas poetry in English, though other forms of religious lyrics were produced in considerable numbers in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. When the carols come at last, they appear in the least likely of all places, at the end of a versifying of the whole duty of man, by John Awdlay, a blind chaplain of Haghmon, in Shropshire. In red letters he writes:—

“I pray you, sirus, boothe moore and lase,

Sing these caroles in Cristëmas,”

and then follows a collection of twenty-five songs, some of which are genuine Christmas carols, as one now understands the word. 2-26

A carol, in the modern English sense, may perhaps be defined as a religious song, less formal and solemn than the ordinary Church hymn—an expression of popular and often naïve devotional feeling, a thing intended to be sung outside rather than within church walls. There still linger about the word some echoes of its original meaning, for “carol” had at first a secular or even pagan significance: in twelfth-century France it was used to describe the amorous song-dance which hailed the coming of spring; in Italian it meant a ring- or song-dance; while by English writers from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century it was used chiefly of singing joined with dancing, and had no necessary connection with religion. Much as the mediaeval Church, with its ascetic tendencies, disliked religious dancing, it could not always suppress it; and in Germany, as we shall see, there was choral dancing at Christmas round the cradle of the Christ Child. Whether Christmas carols were ever danced to in England p. 48 is doubtful; many of the old airs and words have, however, a glee and playfulness as of human nature following its natural instincts of joy even in the celebration of the most sacred mysteries. It is probable that some of the carols are religious parodies of love-songs, written for the melodies of the originals, and many seem by their structure to be indirectly derived from the choral dances of farm folk, a notable feature being their burden or refrain, a survival of the common outcry of the dancers as they leaped around.

Awdlay's carols are perhaps meant to be sung by “wassailing neighbours, who make their rounds at Christmastide to drink a cup and take a gift, and bring good fortune upon the house” 2-27 —predecessors of those carol-singers of rural England in the nineteenth century, whom Mr. Hardy depicts so delightfully in “Under the Greenwood Tree.” Carol-singing by a band of men who go from house to house is probably a Christianization of such heathen processions as we shall meet in less altered forms in Part II.

It must not be supposed that the carols Awdlay gives are his own work; and their exact date it is impossible to determine. Part of his book was composed in 1426, but one at least of the carols was probably written in the last half of the fourteenth century. They seem indeed to be the later blossomings of the great springtime of English literature, the period which produced Chaucer and Langland, an innumerable company of minstrels and ballad-makers, and the mystical poet, Richard Rolle of Hampole. 23

Through the fifteenth century and the first half of the sixteenth, the flowering continued; and something like two hundred carols of this period are known. It is impossible to attempt here anything like representative quotation; I can only sketch in p. 49 roughest outline the main characteristics of English carol literature, and refer the reader for examples to Miss Edith Rickert's comprehensive collection, “Ancient English Carols, MCCCC-MDCC,” or to the smaller but fine selection in Messrs. E. K. Chambers and F. Sidgwick's “Early English Lyrics.” Many may have been the work of goliards or wandering scholars, and a common feature is the interweaving of Latin with English words.

Some, like the exquisite “I sing of a maiden that is makeles,” 2-29 are rather songs to or about the Virgin than strictly Christmas carols; the Annunciation rather than the Nativity is their theme. Others again tell the whole story of Christ's life. The feudal idea is strong in such lines as these:—

“Mary is quene of allë thinge,

And her sone a lovely kinge.

God graunt us allë good endinge!

Regnat dei gracia.” 2-30

On the whole, in spite of some mystical exceptions, the mediaeval English carol is somewhat external in its religion; there is little deep individual feeling; the caroller sings as a member of the human race, whose curse is done away, whose nature is exalted by the Incarnation, rather than as one whose soul is athirst for God:—

“Now man is brighter than the sonne;

Now man in heven an hie shall wonne;

Blessëd be God this game is begonne

And his moder emperesse of helle.” 2-31

Salvation is rather an objective external thing than an inward and spiritual process. A man has but to pray devoutly to the dear Mother and Child, and they will bring him to the heavenly court. It is not so much personal sin as an evil influence in humanity, that is cured by the great event of Christmas:—

“It was dark, it was dim,

For men that levëd in gret sin;

Lucifer was all within,

Till on the Cristmes day.p. 50

There was weping, there was wo,

For every man to hell gan go.

It was litel mery tho,

Till on the Cristmes day.” 2-32

But now that Christ is born, and man redeemed, one may be blithe indeed:—

“Jhesus is that childës name,

Maide and moder is his dame,

And so oure sorow is turned to game.

Gloria tibi domine.

*       *       *       *       *

Now sitte we downe upon our knee,

And pray that child that is so free;

And with gode hertë now sing we

Gloria tibi domine.” 2-33

Sometimes the religious spirit almost vanishes, and the carol becomes little more than a gay pastoral song:—

“The shepard upon a hill he satt;

He had on him his tabard and his hat,

His tar-box, his pipe, and his flagat;

His name was called Joly Joly Wat,

For he was a gud herdës boy.

Ut hoy!

For in his pipe he made so much joy.

*       *       *       *       *

Whan Wat to Bedlem cum was,

He swet, he had gone faster than a pace;

He found Jesu in a simpell place,

Betwen an ox and an asse.

Ut hoy!

For in his pipe he made so much joy.

‘Jesu, I offer to thee here my pipe,

My skirt, my tar-box, and my scripe;

Home to my felowes now will I skipe,

And also look unto my shepe.’

Ut hoy!

For in his pipe he made so much joy.” 2-34

p. 51 But to others again, especially the lullabies, the hardness of the Nativity, the shadow of the coming Passion, give a deep note of sorrow and pathos; there is the thought of the sword that shall pierce Mary's bosom:—

“This endris night I saw a sight,

A maid a cradell kepe,

And ever she song and seid among

‘Lullay, my child, and slepe.’

‘I may not slepe, but I may wepe,

I am so wo begone;

Slepe I wold, but I am colde

And clothës have I none.

*       *       *       *       *

‘Adam's gilt this man had spilt;

That sin greveth me sore.

Man, for thee here shall I be

Thirty winter and more.

*       *       *       *       *

‘Here shall I be hanged on a tree,

And die as it is skill.

That I have bought lesse will I nought;

It is my fader's will.’” 2-35

The lullabies are quite the most delightful, as they are the most human, of the carols. Here is an exquisitely musical verse from one of 1530:—

“In a dream late as I lay,

Methought I heard a maiden say

And speak these words so mild:

‘My little son, with thee I play,

And come,’ she sang, ‘by, lullaby.’

Thus rockëd she her child.

By-by, lullaby, by-by, lullaby,

Rockëd I my child.

By-by, by-by, by-by, lullaby,

Rockëd I my child. ” 2-36

p. 52 p. 53 p. 54 p. 55


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Erika Zimney
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« Reply #20 on: December 25, 2008, 10:46:51 pm »


The French Noël—Latin Hymnody in Eighteenth-century France—Spanish Christmas Verse—Traditional Carols of Many Countries—Christmas Poetry in Protestant Germany—Post-Reformation Verse in England—Modern English Carols.

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Erika Zimney
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« Reply #21 on: December 25, 2008, 10:47:33 pm »


By Fouquet.

(Musée Condé, Chantilly.)
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Erika Zimney
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« Reply #22 on: December 25, 2008, 10:48:54 pm »

The Reformation marks a change in the character of Christmas poetry in England and the larger part of Germany, and, instead of following its development under Protestantism, it will be well to break off and turn awhile to countries where Catholic tradition remained unbroken. We shall come back later to Post-Reformation England and Protestant Germany.

In French 3-1 there is little or no Christmas poetry, religious in character, before the fifteenth century; the earlier carols that have come down to us are songs rather of feasting and worldly rejoicing than of sacred things. The true Noël begins to appear in fifteenth-century manuscripts, but it was not till the following century that it attained its fullest vogue and was spread all over the country by the printing presses. Such Noëls seem to have been written by clerks or recognized poets, either for old airs or for specially composed music. “To a great extent,” says Mr. Gregory Smith, “they anticipate the spirit which stimulated the Reformers to turn the popular and often obscene songs into good and godly ballads.” 3-2

Some of the early Noëls are not unlike the English carols of the period, and are often half in Latin, half in French. Here are a few such “macaronic” verses:—

“Célébrons la naissance

Nostri Salvatoris,p. 56

Qui fait la complaisance

Dei sui Patris.

Cet enfant tout aimable,

In nocte mediâ,

Est né dans une étable,

De castâ Mariâ.

*       *       *       *       *

Mille esprits angéliques,

Juncti pastoribus,

Chantent dans leur musique,

Puer vobis natus,

Au Dieu par qui nous sommes,

Gloria in excelsis,

Et la paix soit aux hommes

Bonae voluntatis.

*       *       *       *       *

Qu'on ne soit insensible!

Adeamus omnes

A Dieu rendu passible,

Propter nos mortales,

Et tous, de compagnie,

Deprecemur eum

Qu’à la fin de la vie,

Det regnum beatum.” 3-3

The sixteenth century is the most interesting Noël period; we find then a conflict of tendencies, a conflict between Gallic realism and broad humour and the love of refined language due to the study of the ancient classics. There are many anonymous pieces of this time, but three important Noëlistes stand out by name: Lucas le Moigne, Curé of Saint Georges, Puy-la-Garde, near Poitiers; Jean Daniel, called “Maître Mitou,” a priest-organist at Nantes; and Nicholas Denisot of Le Mans, whose Noëls appeared posthumously under the pseudonym of “Comte d'Alsinoys.”

Lucas le Moigne represents the esprit gaulois, the spirit that is often called “Rabelaisian,” though it is only one side of the genius of Rabelais. The good Curé was a contemporary of p. 57 the author of “Pantagruel.” His “Chansons de Noëls nouvaulx” was published in 1520, and contains carols in very varied styles, some naïve and pious, others hardly quotable at the present day. One of his best-known pieces is a dialogue between the Virgin and the singers of the carol: Mary is asked and answers questions about the wondrous happenings of her life. Here are four verses about the Nativity:—

“Or nous dites, Marie,

Les neuf mois accomplis,

Naquit le fruit de vie,

Comme l'Ange avoit dit?

—Oui, sans nulle peine

Et sans oppression,

Naquit de tout le monde

La vraie Rédemption.

Or nous dites, Marie,

Du lieu impérial,

Fut-ce en chambre parée,

Ou en Palais royal?

—En une pauvre étable

Ouverte à l'environ

Ou n'avait feu, ni flambe

Ni latte, ni chevron.

Or nous dites, Marie,

Qui vous vint visiter;

Les bourgeois de la ville

Vous ont-ils confortée?

—Oncque, homme ni femme

N'en eut compassion,

Non plus que d'un esclave

D’étrange région.

*       *       *       *       *

Or nous dites, Marie,

Des pauvres pastoureaux

Qui gardaient ès montagnes

Leurs brebis & aigneaux.p. 58

—Ceux-là m'ont visitée

Par grande affection;

Moult me fut agréable

Leur visitation.” 3-4

The influence of the “Pléiade,” with its care for form, its respect for classical models, its enrichment of the French tongue with new Latin words, is shown by Jean Daniel, who also owes something to the poets of the late fifteenth century. Two stanzas may be quoted from him:—

“C'est ung très grant mystère

Qu'ung roy de si hault pris

Vient naistre en lieu austère,

En si meschant pourpris:

Le Roy de tous les bons espritz,

C'est Jésus nostre frère,

Le Roy de tous les bons espritz,

Duquel sommes apris.

Saluons le doulx Jésuchrist,

Notre Dieu, notre frère,

Saluons le doulx Jésuchrist,

Chantons Noel d'esprit!

*       *       *       *       *

En luy faisant prière,

Soyons de son party,

Qu'en sa haulte emperière

Ayons lieu de party;

Comme il nous a droict apparty,

Jésus nostre bon frère,

Comme il nous a droict apparty

Au céleste convy.

Saluons, etc.

Amen. Noel.” 3-5

As for Denisot, I may give two charming verses from one of his pastorals:—

“Suz, Bergiez, en campaigne,

Laissez là vos troppeaux,p. 59

Avant qu'on s'accompaigne,

Enflez vos chalumeaux.

*       *       *       *       *

Enflez vos cornemuses,

Dansez ensemblement,

Et vos doucettes muses,

Accollez doucement.” 3-6

One result of the Italian influences which came over France in the sixteenth century was a fondness for diminutives. Introduced into carols, these have sometimes a very graceful effect:—

“Entre le boeuf & le bouvet,

Noel nouvellet,

Voulust Jésus nostre maistre,

En un petit hostelet,

Noel nouvellet,

En ce pauvre monde naistre,

O Noel nouvellet!

Ne couche, ne bercelet,

Noel nouvellet,

Ne trouvèrent en cette estre,

Fors ung petit drappelet,

Noel nouvellet,

Pour envelopper le maistre,

O Noel nouvellet!” 3-7

These diminutives are found again, though fewer, in a particularly delightful carol:—

“Laissez paître vos bestes

Pastoureaux, par monts et par vaux;

Laissez paître vos bestes,

Et allons chanter Nau.

J'ai ouï chanter le rossignol,

Qui chantoit un chant si nouveau,

Si haut, si beau,

Si résonneau,p. 60

Il m'y rompoit la tête,

Tant il chantoit et flageoloit:

Adonc pris ma houlette

Pour aller voir Naulet.

Laissez paître, etc.” 3-8

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Erika Zimney
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« Reply #23 on: December 25, 2008, 10:49:16 pm »

The singer goes on to tell how he went with his fellow-shepherds and shepherdesses to Bethlehem:—

“Nous dîmes tous une chanson

Les autres en vinrent au son,

Chacun prenant

Son compagnon:

Je prendrai Guillemette,

Margot tu prendras gros Guillot;

Qui prendra Péronelle?

Ce sera Talebot.

Laissez paître, etc.

Ne chantons plus, nous tardons trop,

Pensons d'aller courir le trot.

Viens-tu, Margot?—

J'attends Guillot.—

J'ai rompu ma courette,

Il faut ramancher mon sabot.—

Or, tiens cette aiguillette,

Elle y servira trop.

Laissez paître, etc.

*       *       *       *       *

Nous courumes de grand’ roideur

Pour voir notre doux Rédempteur

Et Créateur

Et Formateur,

Qui était tendre d'aage

Et sans linceux en grand besoin,

Il gisait en la crêche

Sur un botteau de foin.

Laissez paître, etc.p. 61

Sa mère avecque lui était:

Et Joseph si lui éclairait,

Point ne semblait

Au beau fillet,

Il n’était point son père;

Je l'aperçus bien au cameau (visage)

Il semblait à sa mère,

Encore est-il plus beau.

Laissez paître, etc.”

This is but one of a large class of French Noëls which make the Nativity more real, more present, by representing the singer as one of a company of worshippers going to adore the Child. Often these are shepherds, but sometimes they are simply the inhabitants of a parish, a town, a countryside, or a province, bearing presents of their own produce to the little Jesus and His parents. Barrels of wine, fish, fowls, sucking-pigs, pastry, milk, fruit, firewood, birds in a cage—such are their homely gifts. Often there is a strongly satiric note: the peculiarities and weaknesses of individuals are hit off; the reputation of a place is suggested, a village whose people are famous for their stinginess offers cider that is half rain-water; elsewhere the inhabitants are so given to law-suits that they can hardly find time to go to Bethlehem.

Such Noëls with their vivid local colour, are valuable pictures of the manners of their time. They are, unfortunately, too long for quotation here, but any reader who cares to follow up the subject will find some interesting specimens in a little collection of French carols that can be bought for ten centimes. 3-9 They are of various dates; some probably were written as late as the eighteenth century. In that century, and indeed in the seventeenth, the best Christmas verses are those of a provincial and rustic character, and especially those in patois; the more cultivated poets, with their formal classicism, can ill enter into the spirit of the festival. Of the learned writers the best is a woman, Françoise Paschal, of Lyons (b. about 1610); in spite of her Latinity she shows a real feeling for her subjects. Some of her Noëls are dialogues between the sacred personages; one presents p. 62 Joseph and Mary as weary wayfarers seeking shelter at all the inns of Bethlehem and everywhere refused by host or hostess:—

“Saint Joseph.

Voyons la Rose-Rouge.

Madame de céans,

Auriez-vous quelque bouge

Pour de petites gens?


Vous n'avez pas la mine

D'avoir de grands trésors;

Voyez chez ma voisine,

Car, quant à moi, je dors.

Saint Joseph.

Monsieur des Trois-Couronnes,

Avez-vous logement,

Chez vous pour trois personnes,

Quelque trou seulement.


Vous perdez votre peine,

Vous venez un peu tard,

Ma maison est fort pleine,

Allez quelqu'autre part.” 3-10

The most remarkable of the patois Noëlistes of the seventeenth century are the Provençal Saboly and the Burgundian La Monnoye, the one kindly and tender, the other witty and sarcastic. Here is one of Saboly's Provençal Noëls:—

“Quand la mièjonue sounavo,

Ai sautà dóu liech au sòu;

Ai vist un bèl ange que cantavo

Milo fes pu dous qu'un roussignòu.

Lei mastin dóu vesinage

Se soun toutes atroupa;p. 63

N'avien jamai vist aquéu visage

Se soun tout-d'un-cop mes à japa.

Lei pastre dessus la paio

Dourmien coume de soucas;

Quand an aussi lou bru dei sounaio

Au cresegu qu'ero lou souiras.

S'eron de gent resounable,

Vendrien sèns èstre envita:

Trouvarien dins un petit estable

La lumiero emai la verita.” 24 3-11

As for La Monnoye, here is a translation of one of his satirical verses:—“When in the time of frost Jesus Christ came into the world the ass and ox warmed Him with their breath in the stable. How many asses and oxen I know in this kingdom of Gaul! How many asses and oxen I know who would not have done as much!” 3-12

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Erika Zimney
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« Reply #24 on: December 25, 2008, 10:49:57 pm »

Apart from the rustic Noëls, the eighteenth century produced little French Christmas poetry of any charm. Some of the carols most sung in French churches to-day belong, however, to this period, e.g., the “Venez, divin Messie” of the Abbé Pellegrin. 3-13

One cannot leave the France of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries without some mention of its Latin hymnody. From a date near 1700, apparently, comes the sweet and solemn “Adeste, fideles”; by its music and its rhythm, perhaps, rather than by its actual words it has become the best beloved of Christmas hymns. The present writer has heard it sung with equal reverence and heartiness in English, German, French, and Italian churches, and no other hymn seems so full of the spirit of Christmas devotion—wonder, p. 64 awe, and tenderness, and the sense of reconciliation between Heaven and earth. Composed probably in France, “Adeste, fideles” came to be used in English as well as French Roman Catholic churches during the eighteenth century. In 1797 it was sung at the chapel of the Portuguese Embassy in London; hence no doubt its once common name of “Portuguese hymn.” It was first used in an Anglican church in 1841, when the Tractarian Oakley translated it for his congregation at Margaret Street Chapel, London.

Another fine Latin hymn of the eighteenth-century French Church is Charles Coffin's “Jam desinant suspiria.” 3-14 It appeared in the Parisian Breviary in 1736, and is well known in English as “God from on high hath heard.”

The Revolution and the decay of Catholicism in France seem to have killed the production of popular carols. The later nineteenth century, however, saw a revival of interest in the Noël as a literary form. In 1875 the bicentenary of Saboly's death was celebrated by a competition for a Noël in the Provençal tongue, and something of the same kind has been done in Brittany. 3-15 The Noël has attracted by its aesthetic charm even poets who are anything but devout; Théophile Gautier, for instance, wrote a graceful Christmas carol, “Le ciel est noir, la terre est blanche.”

On a general view of the vernacular Christmas poetry of France it must be admitted that the devotional note is not very strong; there is indeed a formal reverence, a courtly homage, paid to the Infant Saviour, and the miraculous in the Gospel story is taken for granted; but there is little sense of awe and mystery. In harmony with the realistic instincts of the nation, everything is dramatically, very humanly conceived; at times, indeed, the personages of the Nativity scenes quite lose their sacred character, and the treatment degenerates into grossness. At its best, however, the French Noël has a gaiety and a grace, joined to a genuine, if not very deep, piety, that are extremely charming. Reading these rustic songs, we are carried in imagination to French countrysides; we think of the long walk through the snow to the Midnight Mass, the cheerful réveillon spread on the p. 65 return, the family gathered round the hearth, feasting on wine and chestnuts and boudins, and singing in traditional strains the joys of Noël.

Across the Pyrenees, in Spain, the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries saw a great output of Christmas verse. Among the chief writers were Juan López de Ubeda, Francisco de Ocaña, and José de Valdivielso. 3-16 Their villancicos remind one of the paintings of Murillo; they have the same facility, the same tender and graceful sentiment, without much depth. They lack the homely flavour, the quaintness that make the French and German folk-carols so delightful; they have not the rustic tang, and yet they charm by their simplicity and sweetness.

Here are a few stanzas by Ocaña:—

“Dentro de un pobre pesebre

y cobijado con heno

yace Jesus Nazareno.

En el heno yace echado

el hijo de Dios eterno,

para librar del infierno

al hombre que hubo criado,

y por matar el pecado

el heno tiene por bueno

nuestro Jesus Nazareno.

Está entre dos animales

que le calientan del frio,

quien remedia nuestros males

con su grande poderío:

es su reino y señorío

el mundo y el cielo sereno,

y agora duerme en el heno.

Tiene por bueno sufrir

el frio y tanta fortuna,

sin tener ropa ninguna

con que se abrigar ni cubrir,p. 66

y por darnos el vivir

padeció frio en el heno,

nuestro Jesus Nazareno.” 25 3-17

More of a peasant flavour is found in some snatches of Christmas carols given by Fernan Caballero in her sketch, “La Noche de Navidad.”

“Ha nacido en un portal,

Llenito de telarañas,

Entre la mula y el buey

El Redentor de las almas.

*       *       *       *       *

En el portal de Belen

Hay estrella, sol y luna:

La Virgen y San José

Y el niño que está en la cuna.

En Belen tocan á fuego,

Del portal sale la llama,

Es una estrella del cielo,

Que ha caido entre la paja.

Yo soy un pobre gitano

Que vengo de Egipto aquí,

Y al niño de Dios le traigo

Un gallo quiquiriquí

Yo soy un pobre gallego

Que vengo de la Galicia,

Y al niño de Dios le traigo

Lienzo para una camisa.p. 67

Al niño recien nacido

Todos le traen un don;

Yo soy chico y nada tengo;

Le traigo mi corazon.” 26 3-18

In nearly every western language one finds traditional Christmas carols. Europe is everywhere alive with them; they spring up like wild flowers. Some interesting Italian specimens are given by Signor de Gubernatis in his “Usi Natalizi.” Here are a few stanzas from a Bergamesque cradle-song of the Blessed Virgin:—

“Dormi, dormi, o bel bambin,

Re divin.

Dormi, dormi, o fantolin.

Fa la nanna, o caro figlio,

Re del Ciel,

Tanto bel, grazioso giglio.

Chiüdi i lümi, o mio tesor,

Dolce amor,

Di quest’ alma, almo Signor;

Fa la nanna, o regio infante,

Sopra il fien,

Caro ben, celeste amante.

Perchè piangi, o bambinell,

Forse il giel

Ti dà noia, o l'asinell?

Fa la nanna, o paradiso

Del mio cor,

Redentor, ti bacio il viso.” 27 3-19

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« Reply #25 on: December 25, 2008, 10:51:07 pm »

p. 68 With this lullaby may be compared a singularly lovely and quite untranslatable Latin cradle-song of unknown origin:—

“Dormi, fili, dormi! mater

Cantat unigenito:

Dormi, puer, dormi! pater,

Nato clamat parvulo:

Millies tibi laudes canimus

Mille, mille, millies.

Lectum stravi tibi soli,

Dormi, nate bellule!

Stravi lectum foeno molli:

Dormi, mi animule.

Millies tibi laudes canimus

Mille, mille, millies.

Ne quid desit, sternam rosis,

Sternam foenum violis,

Pavimentum hyacinthis

Et praesepe liliis.

Millies tibi laudes canimus

Mille, mille, millies.p. 69

Si vis musicam, pastores

Convocabo protinus;

Illis nulli sunt priores;

Nemo canit castius.

Millies tibi laudes canimus

Mille, mille, millies.” 3-21

Curious little poems are found in Latin and other languages, making a dialogue of the cries of animals at the news of Christ's birth. 3-22 The following French example is fairly typical:—

“Comme les bestes autrefois

Parloient mieux latin que françois,

Le coq, de loin voyant le fait,

S’écria: Christus natus est.

Le bœuf, d'un air tout ébaubi,

Demande: Ubi? Ubi? Ubi?

La chèvre, se tordant le groin,

Répond que c'est à Béthléem.

Maistre Baudet, curiosus

De l'aller voir, dit: Eamus;

Et, droit sur ses pattes, le veau

Beugle deux fois: Volo, Volo! ” 28 3-23

In Wales, in the early nineteenth century, carol-singing was more popular, perhaps, than in England; the carols were sung to the harp, in church at the Plygain or early morning service on Christmas Day, in the homes of the people, and at the doors of the houses by visitors. 3-24 In Ireland, too, the custom of carol-singing then prevailed. 3-25 Dr. Douglas Hyde, in his “Religious Songs of Connacht,” gives and translates an interesting Christmas hymn in Irish, from which two verses may be quoted. They set forth the great paradox of the Incarnation:—

“Little babe who art so great,

Child so young who art so old,p. 70

In the manger small his room,

Whom not heaven itself could hold.

Father—not more old than thou?

Mother—younger, can it be?

Older, younger is the Son,

Younger, older, she than he.” 3-27

Even in dour Scotland, with its hatred of religious festivals, some kind of carolling survived here and there among Highland folk, and a remarkable and very “Celtic” Christmas song has been translated from the Gaelic by Mr. J. A. Campbell. It begins:—

“Sing hey the Gift, sing ho the Gift,

Sing hey the Gift of the Living,

Son of the Dawn, Son of the Star,

Son of the Planet, Son of the Far [twice],

Sing hey the Gift, sing ho the Gift.” 3-28

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« Reply #26 on: December 25, 2008, 10:52:07 pm »




(Vienna: Imperial Gallery)
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« Reply #27 on: December 25, 2008, 10:52:48 pm »


By Ludwig Richter.
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« Reply #28 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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« Reply #29 on: December 25, 2008, 10:54:00 pm »

“Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ,

Dass du Mensch geboren bist

Von einer Jungfrau, das ist wahr,

Des freuet sich der Engel Schar.


Des ew'gen Vaters einig Kind

Jetzt man in der Krippe find't,

In unser armes Fleisch und Blut

Verkleidet sich das ewig Gut.

Kyrieleis!p. 73

Den aller Weltkreis nie beschloss,

Der lieget in Marie'n Schoss;

Er ist ein Kindlein worden klein,

Der alle Ding’ erhält allein.

Kyrieleis! ” 30 3-31

The first stanza alone is mediaeval, the remaining six of the hymn are Luther's.

The Christmas hymns of Paul Gerhardt, the seventeenth-century Berlin pastor, stand next to Luther's. They are more subjective, more finished, less direct and forcible. Lacking the finest qualities of poetry, they are nevertheless impressive by their dignity and heartiness. Made for music, the words alone hardly convey the full power of these hymns. They should be heard sung to the old chorales, massive, yet sweet, by the lusty voices of a German congregation. To English people they are probably best known through the verses introduced into the “Christmas Oratorio,” where the old airs are given new beauty by Bach's marvellous harmonies. The tone of devotion, one feels, in Gerhardt and Bach is the same, immeasurably greater as is the genius of the composer; in both there is a profound joy in the Redemption begun by the Nativity, a robust faith joined to a deep sense of the mystery of suffering, and a keen sympathy with childhood, a tender fondness for the Infant King.

p. 74 The finest perhaps of Gerhardt's hymns is the Advent “Wie soll ich dich empfangen?” (“How shall I fitly meet Thee?”), which comes early in the “Christmas Oratorio.” More closely connected with the Nativity, however, are the Weihnachtslieder, “Wir singen dir, Emanuel,” “O Jesu Christ, dein Kripplein ist,” “Fröhlich soll mein Herze springen,” “Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier,” and others. I give a few verses from the third:—

“Fröhlich soll mein Herze springen

Dieser Zeit,

Da für Freud

Alle Engel singen.

Hört, hört, wie mit vollen Choren

Alle Luft

Laute ruft:

Christus ist geboren.

*       *       *       *       *

Nun, er liegt in seiner Krippen,

Ruft zu sich

Mich und dich,

Spricht mit süssen Lippen:

Lasset fahrn, O lieben Brüder

Was euch quält,

Was euch fehlt;

Ich bring alles wieder.

*       *       *       *       *

Süsses Heil, lass dich umfangen;

Lass mich dir,

Meine Zier,

Unverrückt anhangen.

Du bist meines Lebens Leben;

Nun kann ich

Mich durch dich

Wohl zufrieden geben.” 31 3-33

p. 75 One more German Christmas hymn must be mentioned, Gerhard Tersteegen's “Jauchzet, ihr Himmel, frohlocket, ihr englischen Chöre.” Tersteegen represents one phase of the mystical and emotional reaction against the religious formalism and indifference of the eighteenth century. In the Lutheran Church the Pietists, though they never seceded, somewhat resembled the English Methodists; the Moravians formed a separate community, while from the “Reformed” or Calvinistic Church certain circles of spiritually-minded people, who drew inspiration from the mediaeval mystics and later writers like Böhme and Madame Guyon, gathered into more or less independent groups for religious intercourse. Of these last Tersteegen is a representative singer. Here are three verses from his best known Christmas hymn:—

“Jauchzet, ihr Himmel, frohlocket, ihr englischen Chöre,

Singet dem Herrn, dem Heiland der Menschen, zur Ehre:

Sehet doch da!

Gott will so freundlich und nah

Zu den Verlornen sich kehren.p. 76

König der Ehren, aus Liebe geworden zum Kinde,

Dem ich auch wieder mein Herz in der Liebe verbinde;

Du sollst es sein,

Den ich erwähle allein,

Ewig entsag’ ich der Sünde.

Treuer Immanuel, werd’ auch in mir neu geboren;

Komm doch, mein Heiland, und lass mich nicht länger verloren;

Wohne in mir,

Mach mich ganz eines mit dir,

Den du zum Leben erkoren.” 32 3-35
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