December joys and woes.

So here we are in December, with the full Christmas onslaught upon us.  Or is it?  This year there seems to be a depression that has settled over the whole country and the usual festivities have taken on a drab and tawdry feel.  The street decorations are minimal and look sad and inadequate. Maybe it is time for the Councils just to forget about a few lights draped across the road and go for one good Christmas Tree instead.  The shops don’t seem very full, maybe due to financial shortages, or the sudden freezing weather. Even the Christmas music is terrible with endless piped renderings through the supermarkets of “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” – in my opinion two of the most irritating pieces of music ever written.  So to be frank, there is not much Christmas joy about.

Please don’t think I have taken on Scrooge-like tendencies, because I haven’t.  I have always loved Christmas and all that it entails –  the music, the preparations, the giving, the family get-togethers etc.  But this year there does seem to be an extra strain on everybody.  There is the shadow of Brexit hanging over us with the fear of the unknown.  There is the danger of having an unhinged American President, who with his latest decision over ‘Climate Change’ and ‘Jerusalem’,  has added an extra worry to an uncertain world.  The tragedy of Grenfell is still very present and there are daily terrible photos of wounded and suffering children from all over the world who appear on our television screens.  So it is difficult to feel the usual Christmas joy.  It is not that it has now become far too commercial, we also seem to have lost the true meaning of Christmas in our present situation.

Thirty years ago I spent Christmas Eve with the great singer Jessye Norman. During the evening I suggested to the composer Donald Fraser that I should write a carol for Jessye and he should set it to music.  We did this and it was performed at midnight.  Jessye was so delighted with her carol it became the theme for a whole Christmas recording, which was later filmed at Ely Cathedral.                  “This Christmastide, Jessye’s Carol” is now performed all over the world and is available on the Philip’s label in CD and DVD. The final line of each verse is “Truth and Love and Hope Abide, This Christmastide.”  You can find the video of Jessye singing it in Ely Cathedral on YouTube.  This carol still expresses to me everything I feel about Christmas and every time I hear it I have renewed hope. In the final verse Jessye sang ‘Peace’ instead of ‘Hope’ by mistake.  It seemed so right we left it in.

So I wish anyone who reads this blog a Christmas full of truth and love and hope – and of course, peace.

Comments (3)

  1. Angel-e February 14, 2019 at 6:07 pm

    So true. Just discovered this song about a week now, added it to my list of favorites and just can’t seem to stop listening.

    It’s simply written, beautifully rendered by the ridiculously gifted Ms Jessye Norman, reasonably easy to learn, yet, I believe powerfully sums up the whole reason for human existence. To love God, love each other, have hope and live in peace.

    So needed at a time like this. Peace, love, hope and blessings. Angel 02.14.2019

  2. Liz Cluff December 5, 2019 at 8:45 pm

    Dear Ms. McCulloch,

    I am just now reading your blog as I came across it while searching for the lyrics to “This Christmastide, Jessye’s Carol”. I am the Music and Art Coordinator at a school located in Virginia, USA. Every Christmas season, our school chapel holds a candlelight Lessons and Carols service that resembles the Cambridge service. The carols vary year to year, and a constant favorite is “This Christmastide, Jessye’s Carol”. Our beloved school nurse of 24 years is retiring in 2020. She has requested this song for the candlelight service and tears up whenever she hears it. This song and its words are a blessing to her and she will cherish it more than ever this year, her last Christmas at our school.
    I hope this Christmas brings you much joy, peace, hope, and love. God bless you and thank you for blessing us with music and verse that reminds us of the truth of this season.
    Elizabeth Cluff

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