16 December 2010

Christmas Carols

Last night our local PBS station presented a Christmas concert by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The program was wonderful. Guests included entertainer (and daughter of Nat King Cole) Natalie Cole and author/historian David McCullough.

Natalie performed superbly. Along with the choir and orchestra, she performed "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year"; "Hark the Herald Angels Sing"; "The Holly and The Ivy"; "The Christmas Song"; "Caroling, Caroling"; and "The Grown Up Christmas List". She also recited the Christmas story from Luke.

David McCullough talked about Christmas carols particular to America. Taken from his book "In the Dark Streets Shineth", McCullough related how just weeks after Pearl Harbor, Prime Minister Winston Churchill secretly traveled to meet with President Roosevelt. Together they turned on the lights of the White House Christmas Tree and addressed a crowd of 20,000 people who had gathered.

Churchill said, “This is a strange Christmas Eve. Almost the whole world is locked in deadly struggle…. Let the children have their night of fun and laughter. Let the gifts of Father Christmas delight their play. Let us grown-ups share to the full in their unstinted pleasures before we turn again to the stern task and the formidable years that lie before us.”

The next day the two leaders attended church together and it was there that Churchill heard "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" for the first time. It was written in the 1880s by an American. McCullough said that it became one of Churchill's favorites, particularly the lines:

Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

"I'll Be Home for Christmas" was written in 1943 by the same man who wrote "The White Cliffs of Dover". McCullough stated that "The White Cliffs of Dover" had become like an anthem to Britain. "I'll be Home for Christmas" was recorded by Bing Crosby and grossed more than even "White Christmas".

As my sister-in-law says there are so many wonderful Christmas songs, it's impossible to pick one favorite. But these are among my most cherished.

"Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" is special to me for a rather bizarre reason. It was one of my Mother's favorite Christmas songs and she would sing it a lot at Christmas. HOWEVER, she never sang the melody as written. She always sang it to the tune of "Blest Be the Tie"! Try it - it works. But even today I really have to concentrate to sing it correctly - I always hear her voice in my head singing it her way.

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