Sunday, 30 December 2007

In the Bleak Midwinter

In spite of my mother's best efforts I don't attend church, but I have always loved Christmas carols as being part of the Christmas tradition.

One of my favourites is "In the bleak midwinter", sung here by Gloucester Cathedral Choir. I love both the words and music, but it always makes me wonder why the people who wrote carols assumed it would be snowing at the first Christmas. Most seem to have been written in the 19th century. Presumably people then knew it was unlikely to snow in Bethlehem (although it sometimes does), and that 25 December is not the actual date of Jesus' birth.

Apparently, from a response to a question on Yahoo answers, the great census which required Mary and Joseph to go to Bethlehem, occurred between May and September 4BC. The mention of shepherds in the fields by night confirms this because the flocks would be returned to lower pastures or indoors by the end of September.

The words of "In the bleak midwinter" were written by Christina Rossetti, originally as a Christmas poem, later set to music by Gustav Holst. From Hymns and Carols of Christmas I find that there is a third verse which I have never heard before:

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

I can see why it would have been "censored", but what a shame. If a deeply religious Victorian woman can write about breast feeding, why and when did it become a subject to be suppressed?

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