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Tag Archives: Christmas carols

Long time visitors to the Riskies know I have a complicated relationship with Christmas. I detest the whole commercial aspect and I also despise the idea that the season magically fixes things. However, I embrace the season in my own way—which is to accept the darkness as well as the light.

Each year, I think of people who are lonely, and of the various wars, large and small, raging through families and countries. Right now it feels as if the whole world is bleeding, and it seems that every day brings more heartbreak.

I know some people like to look away, to lose themselves in a blaze of Christmas lights, of shopping, even of obsessing about “not being ready” for Christmas. (What does “ready” really mean?)

My own way of coping is to allow the sadness in as well as the joy. Music is one of the ways I can stay in touch with both.

This year I found another version of the Coventry Carol, arranged by Ola Gjeilo, performed by the CORO Vocal Artists. Its haunting melody helps me find that stillness where I can feel the heartbreak and then let it lead me toward whatever healing action I can take for myself and others.

On the more joyful side and in the spirit of the Regency, here’s a version of the Gloucester Wassail and the Holly and the Ivy by the Waverley Consort, with assorted interesting Georgian and Regency imagery. The Gloucester Wassail was first published in the Oxford Book of Carols in 1928, but it believed to date back to the Middle Ages, so it could definitely have been part of a Regency Christmas. An early mention of The Holly and the Ivy is in a book dated 1823, and the lyrics are reprinted in an 1861 collection, A Garland of Christmas Carols, where it is stated that it was found in “an old broadside, printed a century and a half since” (around 1711), so this is another carol that our Regency characters might have sung.

Here’s the refrain from “The Gloucester Wassail”:

Wassail! wassail! all over the town,
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown;
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree;
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee.

If you enjoyed this post, you may want to visit some of my posts from past years about traditional Christmas music that hasn’t been used to sell cars, watches, or anything else:

Holiday Music, Traditional and Reinvented

Antidote for Carol of the Bells

Carols and Winners

What are your favorite carols?


In the past, I’ve taken the Unplug the Christmas Machine workshop, designed to help people focus on what is personally meaningful during the holidays, rather than burn out trying to do it all. For me, music is essential. Last week, I attended the “Lessons and Carols” concert with our local Madrigal Choir, who often perform older, less well known carols. If like me, you are tired of “Carol of the Bells” being used to sell cars and electronic gadgets, you might want to check out some of these videos for a taste of an earlier, less commercialized Christmas.

The first Christmas carols to appear in English were in a 1426 work by John Awdley, who listed 25 “caroles of Cristemas”. Carols were sung by wassailers who went from house to house and also as part of mystery plays. The carols were often only loosely based on the Christmas story and considered entertainment more than a religious practice.

Here’s an example, “The Cherry Tree/10 Joys of Mary” performed by Nowell Sing We Clear, a group devoted to preserving these early Christmas carols. I’ve seen them and they put on a great show.

Here is a performance of the Coventry Carol by the Westminster Cathedral Choir. This is part of a 16th century mystery play, depicting the Massacre of the Innocents when Herod ordered all male infants in Bethlehem to be killed. It makes me cry, but I believe stories like these are an important reminder to be compassionate during this season.

Cromwell and the Puritans tried to suppress the singing of carols, but not surprisingly, did not succeed. Carol singing survived into “our” period and carols continued to be composed and recorded. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” was first listed in a 1760 broadsheet and is probably older than that. Here’s a performance at King’s College, Cambridge.

By the Regency, many Christmas customs were considered rustic and weren’t practiced by the upper classes. Our Regency romance characters gathering around a Christmas tree to sing carols, though not impossible, wouldn’t have been the common thing. While Queen Charlotte did have a Christmas tree at Windsor in 1800, that custom and the singing of carols (especially in church) were more a Victorian thing.

But the process did begin during the Regency. Already, some people longed for simpler, bygone traditions. Some began to create collections of Christmas carols, Davies Gilbert with “Christmas Carols” published in 1822 and William Sandys with “Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern” published in 1833. During that period and later, old carols were revived and many new ones composed.

Here’s “Gaudete” performed by the John Brown University Cathedral Choir. “Gaudete” is from “Piae Cantiones”, a compilation of Finnish and Swedish sacred songs which was published in 1582 but only came to England in 1853. So it’s not Regency at all but I’m including it because I love it!

Another favorite of mine is “Masters in this Hall”. I thought it was older, being fooled by the fact that it is based on an old French dance tune, but the lyrics were written by William Morris in 1860.

What do you think of these? What are your favorite carols? How do you try to “unplug” Christmas?

And congratulations to the following winners of the Kindle ebook of THE INCORRIGIBLE LADY CATHERINE. Please send your email address, and if you wish, the email address of a friend who might enjoy a copy, to elena @ (no spaces).

Jacqueline Seewald

Keira Soleore


Shelley Munro


Happy holidays!


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