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I took a look and realized that this will be the fifth year I’m posting about holiday music. So be it!

I love singing carols and attending holiday concerts. However, some holiday music (more what’s played in stores rather than the concerts I attend) strikes me as cloyingly cheerful, too materialistic, or just not in the spirit of light and love. Some of my least-favorites:

  • “Santa Baby” yes, I know it’s supposed to be funny. Oh well.
  • “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” ditto, and it traumatized my daughters when they were young.
  • “I Need a Little Christmas”–just a little avoidant?

As an antidote, I like to browse Youtube to find lovely and unusual music that appeals to me. Here are some of this year’s finds:

“The Coventry Carol” dates from the 16th century. It was suppressed for a time, but Coventry antiquarian Thomas Sharp published a transcription in 1817, so perhaps this may have been sung during the Regency. It is sad and incredibly beautiful. I’m going to be singing it with my UU church’s choir this Christmas Eve, likely with tears pouring down my face, but that’s just as it should be. Here’s a version by Anuna.

“Gaudete”, also from the 16th century, is one of the more popular of my favorites. Here’s an interesting arrangement from the Mediaeval Baebes.

I first heard “Riu Riu Chiu” at a Twelfth Night performance by the Binghamton Madrigal Choir and loved it. It’s also 16th century, but from Spain so it probably wouldn’t have been familiar to Regency characters. Later I found a delightful version by none other than the Monkees. This year, I found another delightful version performed by Dagilelis (“Little Thistle”), an excellent boys’ choir from Siauliai, Lithuania, which is not far from where some of my ancestors lived.

The other piece my choir will sing on Christmas eve is “Ding Dong Merrily on High”. Although the tune dates from the 16th century and it sounds like something people might have sung during the Regency, the lyrics (by English composer George Ratcliffe Woodward) were first published in 1924. I like this version from London Contemporary Voices.

If you’d like to check out my earlier posts, here’s the list.

What are your favorite and least favorite holiday tunes?


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?


Susanna Fraser was scheduled to post today but she is in deep deadline frenzy, making sure her new book, A Dream Defiant (coming in July, 2013) is the best it can be before delivering to her editor. Apparently, no one told her the world was ending today.

Just in case we are all still here, I’m sharing a little holiday rant.

I am sick of hearing “Carol of the Bells” used to sell stuff. I have heard it sung in different variations with banal commercial lyrics, barked by dogs, honked with car horns, hammered and buzzed with power tools.  I used to like it but now I think I need a very long break before I can hear it again without gritting my teeth.  For me, it has come to embody the commercialism of the season: the message that you can buy happiness and that Christmas is wonderful for everyone, when we all know there are people for whom it is a difficult time.

When holidays get too stressful or commercial for me, I listen to early Christmas music.  It takes me into an earlier time and to a more peaceful place in my soul.  This is music that doesn’t deny that there is suffering in the world but instead offers a sense of enduring beauty and goodness.

So yesterday, I happily spent some time searching around YouTube for some examples to share.

The first is from one of my favorites: the renowned women’s a capella group, Anonymous 4. It’s the Alleluia: “A Nywe Werke” (15th century English).

The next is a version of “Gaudete” performed by a youth choir from Harrogate, England. It’s very sweet and lovingly done.

I first heard “Riu riu chiu”, a 16th century Spanish villancico (a type of popular song), performed by the local Madrigal Choir of Binghamton. When I searched for this carol on YouTube I discovered that the Monkees had performed it in 1967! I clicked on it and, well, see for yourself.

So how about you?  If you need to de-stress during the holidays, how do you do it?  What is your favorite holiday music?  Does anyone else think we need a break from “Carol of the Bells”?


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