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:
What are your favorite carols?