I can’t believe we are half way through Advent already. Today’s festive tune comes courtesy of Anna, who you may recognise as the author of advent door number 5, Paul McCartney’s ‘Pipe’s of Peace’. Anna has selected ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’, with words by Bishop Phillips Brooks and music arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
‘As a child, I attended a Church of England primary school in the suburbs of North West London, and was therefore regularly to be found in the attached church, Holy Trinity, Northwood. My life was punctuated by the Christian festivals we celebrated throughout the year, and I learnt to spot that when our vicar donned his purple robe in Winter, Advent was upon us again, with all the excited anticipation of that season, backed by the singing of all my favourite songs and carols. Fever pitch was reached at 3pm on 24th December when the annual crib service commenced, and O Little Town of Bethlehem launched our procession down the aisle to the back of the Church and the familiar Nativity figures waiting for us once again, gathered around the manger. We bellowed out those beautiful words about the town far away, still and dark, yet filled with everlasting light, but woe betide any of us who carried on bellowing into verse 3!I If “How silently, how silently” wasn’t clue enough, a quelling look from any of the grownups present could hush even the most strident, over excited young singer.
I always felt that Christmas could begin for me during this most quiet and beautiful verse, so effective in its gentleness to my ears, amid the noise and clamour of this wondrous season. Over 45 years later the memories of those crib services, and the images of the birthplace of Christ created in the words of this carol, remain as vivid as ever. I have not been to Bethlehem, but Bishop Phillips Brooks, an American Episcopalian in the late 19th century, was so inspired by his visit there for one Christmas Eve service in the Church of the Nativity, that he left us this beautiful carol as his commemoration of that event, to become part of our memories and our Christmas traditions. What a legacy.’
What a lovely memory of a childhood Christmas, and a beautiful choice of carol.