When Percy Dearmer and Martin Shaw edited the Oxford Book of Carols in 1928 they declined to include Away in a Manger and Silent Night judging that they were ‘too vulgar’, and ‘unlikely to survive the passage of years.’ Now, of course, very few collections of Carols would dare to exclude them.
Fashions in hymns and fashions in carols change. We decided to ask a few people connected with St Chrysostom’s if they had a carol or two which “they’d not heard for a while – one’s we may have liked years ago but don’t hear so much nowadays.”
The answers were very interesting. Some were carols sung and loved in childhood but no longer heard. Indeed two of the choices we were unable even to trace using our friend Google (but see below). They were Sr Linfa’s choice of A mantle of frost and a carpet of snow, and a favourite of Fliss Cold was the moon but the heart of man was colder. Could it be that they were very specific to a place or even a school?
Fr Julian remembered Carols from his ministry in Cornwall that are rarely heard today, for example the Cornish St Day carol Now the holly bears a berry (Sung here, with a verse in Cornish by the Holman-Climax Male Voice Choir), and Lord, you were rich beyond all splendour, traditionally sung, he recalls, on Holy Family Sunday.
Alison mentioned how some carols seem to be gently slipping out of general use nowadays, and in that category she included Little Jesus, sleepy sleep – Rocking, a Czech Carol, translated by Percy Dearmer and once very popular.
Alison also gives an example of a carol that nowadays is hardly ever heard but was very popular in Regency England: The Lord at first did Adam make
Kristof’s knowledge of hymnody and carols is extensive and at times refreshingly idiosyncratic. He offers two Carols that he’d not want to sink into oblivion; Charity at Christmass – ‘Let such (so fantastical) liking not this‘ and Ben Jonson’s Carol ‘I sing the birth was born tonight‘ in Rutland Boughton’s setting.
Perhaps each Christmas we could enjoy rescuing a worthy Carol which may be in danger of being forgotten?