Monday, 16 December 2013

Advent - Week 3

Here it is the third week of Advent already!  Only one more week of work to go and then two and a bit weeks holidays.
And all is back on track at our bijou apartment.
A marzipan coat now adorns the cake:

Colds and flu have been banished.
The Christmas tree has been installed.

Mince pies and spekulatius biscuits are leading the Christmas fare charge:

. . . and all is right with the world.

And so here I sit, the evenings beginning to draw in, and fortified by a mince pie (or two) and a glass of cointreau, I begin to mull things over. . . things such as: What are my favourite Christmas Carols?

I love Christmas carols.  By this I mean real Christmas carols; not 'winter songs'.  
I like winter songs too - my favorite being 'Sleigh Ride' by Leroy Anderson - but that is not what I mean.  I mean Christmas carols: Songs that are specifically meant to be sung in the Christmas season. 
As I understand it, a "carol" was a medieval dance tune which gradually changed in meaning until we know it as a song to be sung in honour of some aspect of Christmas.  I see that carols can also be about winter and there are some for Easter although they are not generally thought of in that sense. To my mind, (and I expect yours too), when the word 'carol' is mentioned we either think of someone's name, or a song to be sung at Christmas.

Anyway, I have been thinking to myself: What are my favourite Christmas carols? I decided for the purpose of this post to choose eight.  Eight Christmas carols that cheer my heart...

It was hard to choose just eight because there are many that I like.  The list started out at six but there were two more that I just couldn't leave out!
. . . and so here they are; in no particular order (and I have included a link at the end of each carol so you can listen to them.  They may not be the best of recordings but they are the best I could find on Youtube):

This carol has received a fairly bad press over the years although I don't know why.  I like it a lot.   Written in the Victorian era, it uses as its base a medieval dance tune (an original carol) and joins it with words written to show the value of charity.
The author was John Mason Neale, a very High Church Anglican priest and hymn-writer who at one time was suspected of being an agent of the Pope.  His sister Elizabeth knew my great-grandmother's family and a so-many great aunt joined her in becoming an Anglican nun.

Some people say that it was composed by the great German early composer, Michael Praetorius but I am not sure if this is correct.  I like the gently lilting music, which are a perfect accompaniment to the Latin words.

This was written by Adolphe Adam (composer of the ballet Giselle) and often translated as 'Oh Holy Night'.  A beautiful carol.  Dignity and purity seem to exude from this work.  I find it very moving.

I thought that this carol was written by an American but I must be mixing it up with another work.  This is the first carol I learnt as a child and for that reason it is special for me.

Another carol for which the authorship is in some dispute.  Known in English as Oh Come All Ye Faithful' it is said to have been composed by John Francis Wade, an English Catholic hymn writer who fled to France in the wake of the Jacobite rebellion. I always find this to be a rousing piece.  

This one might be my all time favourite.  Written by St Alphonsus Liguori in about 1732 it translates into English as 'You Came a Star from Heaven'.   The lilting tune, the lovely words: what is there not to like in this wonderful piece.

This is French carol of unknown origin, known as 'Les Anges dans nos campagnes'.  It was translated into English by Bishop Chadwick of Hexham in the Victorian era.  Like Adeste Fideles, I find it to be a rousing carol that gets everyone singing.

I was surprised to learn that this was written by our old friend William Morris: Our very own Arts and Crafts Christmas carol!  He wrote the 'medieval' lyrics to accompany a much older piece of music, composed by the Baroque composer Marin Marais.  Like many carols this was in fact a dance tune but I guess that such tunes give a pastoral, countryside air to such works, in keeping with the subject matter.  I like this because I think that it does indeed make one think of 'Olde England'.

And finally

A carol rescued by Ralph Vaughan Williams.  A song of hope and of joy.  I often find my self singing this while cooking!

Now tell me: Do you have some favourite Christmas Carols?
What are they?


  1. Dear Kirk - your home must be filled with the delicious smells of Christmas. Naughtily we have already eaten our first batch of mince pies, but they are moorish, aren't they?
    I had no idea that Masters in the Hall was written by Wm. Morris - it seems there was no end to his talents.
    Picking just one carol I always enjoy your final choice - Sussex Carol.

  2. Dear Rosemary,
    We too have just polished off a batch of mince pies. I need to get cracking and make more as we leave for hols on Saturday and I need a supply to take with us - otherwise there will be trouble!

  3. Wow! I love every detail but that angel is super!


    1. Thanks Marina,
      That angel was hand carved in southern Germany. We like it a lot. It is a replica of a fourteenth century carved angel in a church.

  4. I have never had a mince pie Kirk….but they sure look good! As for Christmas carols, I have very fond memories of my dad's Christmas albums….Little Drummer Boy….Silent Night,Oh Holy Night, The Christmas Song, Do You Hear What I Hear, Joy to the World, Oh Come All Ye Faithful…..I have a true love of these songs Kirk….they fill my heart.

    Your home looks so lovely, warm, and inviting.

    1. You've never had a mince pie? Then you must rectify that soon. If I lived nearby I would make you a batch and drive straight over!
      There are some Christmas carols that do indeed speak straight to our hearts. the combination of words and music has the power to move us.
      Kirk x

  5. KIRK DALE! HAPPY CHRISTMAS! You have shown me here a very English Christmas setting, with the biscuits and the reminiscing of great carols; my favorites? Oh Holy Night (especially sung by Josh Groban) and Little Drummer Boy. That one makes me weep because I think of the humility of the whole moment. Dirty animals in a manger, a child born among them.....and a poor child who simply wants to celebrate with a simple drum. It gets me every time.

    Your relaxing mood here is making me so happy. Baking, friendships, singing, a good fire, it all feels so basic and beautiful.

    Enjoy every minute. Anita

    1. Thank you Anita,
      I also like that rendition of Oh Holy Night.
      The Little Drummer Boy has that effect on me too. I remember crying when watching the television movie of it as a little boy. You are right: it is the humility of it that moves one.
      Those four things: baking, friendships, singing and fire. How right you are when you say that they are basic and beautiful. It is apt for this time of year (or any time of year come to that)
      I hope you are having a nice week,

  6. Hello Kirk, I'm glad that you have recovered--it sounded serious there for a while. It looks like you are baking up a storm. I would like to try baking something here, but the oven is very small, and some baking ingredients are hard to get. This is a good week for it anyway--rainy and chilly.

    1. Dear Jim,
      It was serious for a while there. And I never like being unwell at the best of time. Baking is such a joyous thing (when it works out). A small oven is not a handicap though: ours is a small one too - and a small kitchen as well but we manage and dream of the time we will have a large kitchen of our own. It is rainy and chilly here too.
      Bye for now,

  7. Oh those mince pies look absolutely delicious!! I love all the decor in your pictures and I love those ornaments :)

    1. Thank you OE,
      I love mince pies. I flavor the pastry with orange zest which adds another dimension to them.

  8. Dear Kirk,

    If I were anywhere near you, I would drop by and look forlorn until I was offered one of your mince pies. And because I am a helpful sort, I would not refuse seconds. I love mincemeat!

    My favorite carol is "What Child Is This?" because "Greensleeves" is one of my favorite tunes. Incidentally, I went to a holiday concert this past week and heard Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride." The conductor introduced the song and said that ironically, Anderson composed it in sunny, 100-degree weather!

    1. Dear Mark,

      We would take you in, and feed you on mince pies until you were feeling better.

      I seem to recall that my parents had a Christmas album with Vikki Carr singing 'What Child Is This'. Doris Day sang 'Happy Holidays' on that album as week and I remember I and my sisters not only singing it but acting it out at the same time. We were a precocious bunch!

  9. Well you know how to do a Christmas post ( and eat a few mince pies! ) in style, Kirk. Not a carol, but it's Handel's Hallelujah Chorus that always means Christmas to me. Happy Christmas, by the way!

    1. Thank you Faisal,
      If I were near by I would drive round with a batch for you too!
      I am a big fan of Handel. I love the entire Nativity section of Messiah and remember going to a fab performance at the Melbourne Concert Hall.
      Happy Christmas to you to, my friend!

  10. Hi, Kirk! Your cooking looks delicious as always:)) I love this marzipan cake, is its recipe complicated? Of carols I love and have heard only Holy night. It was the Christmas night at small church in Old Woking Vicarage, England. I've seen the Nutcracker toy on your tree, it reminds me the ballet by Tchaikovsky.
    Have a nice week!

    1. Thank you Nadezda.
      The cake is a fruit cake. After it is covered in marzipan, and the marzipan has set, it is covered in icing so that it looks like a large sculptured snowball! The receipt is involved but not that difficult.
      I love the Nutcracker Ballet. I saw it a a child and it is always a part of my Christmas memories.

      Holy Night is a very moving carol. There is something very brave and noble and loving about it.

  11. Hi Kirk, what a lovely Advent post! I truly enjoyed looking at these beautiful impressions of your apartment lovingly decorated for Christmas. And then your baking. Wow! The mince pies and spekulatius biscuits look so tempting, left alone the cake with the Marzipan coating! Looks like you are all set and ready to enjoy the celebrations. Wishing you and your partner Happy Holidays!

    1. Thank you Christina,
      I am indeed all ready for Christmas. We are going to Burgundy to celebrate and snow is expected which will be nice as long as there is not too much!
      I wish you, your family, and your wonderful roses, a Merry Christmas too!

  12. Last week we attended the Traditional Christmas performance of the Calgary Philharmonic Ochestra in the beautiful sandstone, gothic Grace Presbytarian church. My favourite Christmas music, both hymns I think, O Little Town of Bethlehem and Once In Royal David's City. My father was an organist, I grew up on church music. Despite being seen as uncool during my youth I have retained a love for it.

    1. Dear Susan,
      That concert sounded lovely! When we hear our favourite carols being played we feel a sort of ownership of them. They are 'ours': almost as if an old friend has arrived to see us!
      I hope your week is going well,

  13. Your evenings with a glass of cointreau in your hand and a mince pie by your side sound delightful! I can almost imagine you sitting in your chair with a Christmas carol playing merrily in the background :-)

    I enjoyed your selection of favourites. Among them are two of mine too (Adeste Fidelis and Away in a Manger). Do you know the German Christmas song 'Heilige Nacht'?

    It's one of my favourites too.

    Enjoy the pre Christmas celebrations at home and school!

    Madelief x

  14. I love carols, but love any winter songs really, even the cheesy christmas number ones. Although I realised the other day that the CDs I do have are all of the more traditional carols - really must buy something with Slade on it. And We're Walking in the Air. As for carols, I really like Silent Night - at home we used to do a great performance at that to end our christmas concerts, singing the first verse in German first, then in Irish and then in English (so that people could join in at the end). I find that whatever carols we're singing in choir that year end up being the ones I am drawn to, which is understandable enough I suppose. Messiah is definitely way up there for me, too though. This year for the first time I actually got to go to a performance and just listen - now I can't decide if I prefer singing it or listening to it! The music I have for In Dulci Jubilo, by the way, does list Praetorius as the composer.