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In Praise of Christmas [Dec. 24th, 2017|05:08 pm]
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Last Sunday was the Carol Evening: a whole week ago! How did that happen? I started writing this on the train home, and have been nibbling at it ever since. I'm still surfing that wave, and very little gets done that doesn't have a deadline attached. But I hereby declare that Christmas Eve is the deadline for this post...

So, the Bears' Carol Evening: an annual tradition if not a ritual. I first wrote about it in my first year of keeping this journal, despite that being one of the rare years in which we weren't present, and I've probably written about it most years since. It went well this year - it always goes well, but [personal profile] boybear pronounced us in particularly fine voice, and who am I to argue?

The mulled wine was particularly good. Since I was substantially in charge of it, it isn't very modest of me to say so, but for the record, this is what I did and it turned out well. The wine was an Argentine malbec, recommended by the helpful staff of Majestic in Durham and delivered to the Bears by Majestic in Islington. Forty minutes before the guests were due (and I suspect that the earlier, the better) I sliced two oranges and a lemon into the pot, squeezed in the juice from the end bits, added three and a half bottles of wine, some cinnamon stick, some cloves, about an inch of ginger root cut into sticks (can you see what I forgot?), warmed it all up and added, incrementally, half a jar of honey and the remnants of the previous jar. When it was hot I turned off the heat, and let it stand for ten to fifteen minutes until people started to arrive, then reignited the gas. Just before we left the kitchen to start singing, I poured in another bottle and a half of wine and let it stand - and I think this may have suffered some depredations, so at half time (after Down in Yon Forest) I added the remaining bottle of wine, the other half jar of honey, and warmed it up again. This is contrary to all my principles, but I suspect part of the secret is being generous with the honey.

Talking of Down in Yon Forest, the Bears were at another event the following evening, at which Someone sang the Corpus Christi carol, which would seem to be an earlier version:

He bore him up, he bore him down,
He bore him into an orchard brown.
Lully, lullay, lully, lullay!
The falcon has borne my mate away.

In that orchard there was a hall
That was hanged with purple and pall;
Lully, lullay, lully, lullay!
The falcon has borne my mate away.

the Wikipedia article gives information and lyrics, and Archie Fisher has a pretty version There's also a setting by Benjamin Britten, which I think is what Jeff Buckley sings. This works less well for me, partly because the words are sung so clearly and meaningfully that their sheer oddness is more striking. Is it as odd as Down in Yon Forest, or odder? There's another whole post in that question.

Another carol I particularly enjoyed singing this year was In Praise of Christmas:
All hail to the days that merit more praise
Than all the rest of the year,
And welcome the nights that double delights,
As well for the poor as the peer!
Good fortune attend each merry man's friend,
That doth but the best that he may;
Forgetting old wrongs, with carols and songs,
To drive the cold winter away.

which we take rather more briskly than Loreena McKennitt's version. I feel as if I'm finally getting to know it, and to place the words correctly on the melody (which is pretty slow of me, since we have been singing the same selection of carols for all these many years).

We've been pretty much the same singers, too: the numbers are limited to as many as we can sit in a circle round the big sitting room, so people are only invited if they are likely to enjoy this kind of evening. But most years we have someone who hasn't been before, or who isn't a regular, and it was one of those first timers who made the excellent suggestion that on Good King Wenceslas we each decide whether to sing the King's dialogue or the page's. We'll definitely be keeping that innovation (though it made me very aware that the poor man doesn't have any dialogue at all).

After the carols, A. asked me "Do you remember singing People Look East at school?" (we were at school together) and I was starting to say no, never heard of it, when she sang the first few notes, and I discovered that actually, yes, I did still remember it, and with her help could still sing the first verse. My memory, let me show it to you. (Text here, and goodness, it's by Eleanor Farjeon).

And that was the Carol Evening. That's where Christmas begins.

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.

[User Picture]From: steepholm
2017-12-25 12:12 am (UTC)
Have a very good one! You remind me that I haven't sampled any mulled wine at all this year. Perhaps I shall buy it cheap and in bulk for my birthday, which falls in January.
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2017-12-26 11:41 am (UTC)
That seems entirely in order! Hope you are enjoying your family gathering!
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[User Picture]From: pigshitpoet
2017-12-25 04:25 am (UTC)

; )

thanks for sharing! merry christmas!
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2017-12-26 11:42 am (UTC)

Re: ; )

You're welcome!
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