As the current movie “The Man Who Invented Christmas” (reviewed here) reminds us, many of our current Christmas customs and decor date from the Victorian era in general, and from Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella “A Christmas Carol” in particular.
But an English Christmas doesn’t begin or end with Dickens, and here are some contemporary performers doing the Lord’s birthday, British style.
The Cherry Tree Carol
Perhaps dating back to the early 15th century, this is one of the few Christmas carols to feature Joseph — and it’s not a flattering portrayal (but, spoiler alert, it all turns out well!).
Here’s British rock star Sting in a 2009 performance at Durham Cathedral, a medieval church in England, currently Anglican but formerly Catholic (aren’t they all?):
In the Bleak Midwinter
A late 19th-century poem by Christina Rossetti set to music in the early 20th century, it’s sung for the BBC by “Britain’s Got Talent” runner-up Susan Boyle (she lost, inexplicably, to a dance group called “Diversity”).
The Holly and the Ivy
This is a traditional British folk carol (meaning nobody knows exactly how old it is), but it was first published in the early 19th century. Here’s a live version by rock singer Annie Lennox:
God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
Dating to the 16th century or earlier, this carol is actually referenced in “A Christmas Carol.” Here’s a very modern version by the a cappella group Pentatonix, which shot to fame after winning NBC’s reality-competition show “The Sing-Off.”
From the 16th century, this may be the only carol that refers directly to the Massacre of the Innocents by King Herod, and is a lullaby sung by the mothers of the doomed babies. The Holy Innocents are often left out of the Christmas narrative — not by us, as the Catholic Church has a feast day for them on Dec. 28 — but as horrific as the story is, this lovely carol commemorates them.
Here’s Sting again:
Here We Come A’Wassailing
The traditional English carol and New Year’s song dates from around 1850 — so if you see it performed in any version of “A Christmas Carol,” remind yourself that somebody didn’t do their homework.
Here’s a Celtic-flavored version featuring American singer/songwriter David Archuleta:
A Happy Christmas to you all!
Image: Wikimedia Commons