Advent activity #13

Stand down, there is no activity today because the 13th is officially designated another BREAK day. And honestly, by mid-December when it’s wet outside and work hasn’t let up at all yet and you’re still post-Covid and you walked 15,000 steps yesterday and had two (two!) social engagements, one of which took place IN REAL LIFE, I think a break is well-earned. The furthest I plan to go today is to the shop for some milk, and the only activity I will be taking part in is hanging out the laundry, and I’m only doing that because in an ill-advised surge of early morning energy I decided to do the laundry in the first place, a decision I now firmly regret.

Still, at least I can listen to Christmas music while I hang out the laundry, and since its Sunday and I’ve nothing else to do I’m sharing this whole playlist made by my brother, who has carefully selected the best possible versions of all the best possible carols. It’s really a hanging-things-on-the-tree playlist, but I’m optimistic it will work just as well as a hanging-things-on-the-clothes-horse playlist.

If you don’t have time to listen to the whole thing you can just listen to my favourite, which today is the haunting Bethlehem Down as sung by the choir of Queen’s College, Oxford:

Advent Carol for December 8: Bethlehem Down

This carol has my favourite origin story of all (so far). Accounts vary, but everyone seems to agree that composer Peter Warlock and lyricist Bruce Blunt wrote the carol together in 1927, entered it into a Christmas carol-writing contest that the Daily Telegraph was running, won the competition and, as Blunt later put it, “had an immortal carouse on the proceeds”. I think that from now on whenever I go out drinking I will refer to it as an “immortal carouse”. It may have had a prosaic inception, but the words and the melody are both so beautiful that today I am going to share both with you:

When he is King we will give him the Kings’ gifts,
Myrrh for its sweetness, and gold for a crown,
Beautiful robes, said the young girl to Joseph,
Fair with her first-born on Bethlehem Down.

Bethlehem Down is full of the starlight –
Winds for the spices, and stars for the gold,
Mary for sleep, and for lullaby music
Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem fold.

When he is King they will clothe him in grave-sheets,
Myrrh for embalming, and wood for a crown,
He that lies now in the white arms of Mary,
Sleeping so lightly on Bethlehem Down.

Here he has peace and a short while for dreaming,
Close-huddled oxen to keep him from cold,
Mary for love, and for lullaby music
Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem fold.