Archive for December 2012

Seventh Day of Christmas: 31st December: New Year’s Eve   1 comment

English: Crowds gathered in London's Trafalgar...

English: Crowds gathered in London’s Trafalgar Square for New Year’s Eve (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A ‘Waits’ Carol’ (1642) to the tune ‘Greensleeves’, for New Year:

‘The old year now away is fled,

The new year it is enteréd,

Then let us now our sins down-tread,

And joyfully all appear;

Let’s merry be this day,

And let us now both sport and play:

Hang grief, cast care away!

God send you a happy New Year!’

From the Celtic Druids to the Romans to the Saxons, the British made a feature of welcoming the New Year, so the festival has been celebrated in Britain throughout its entire history, back at least as far as the time of Christ, and before Christmas was even thought of by an Early Church which was, in any case, more concerned with the powerful image of the King on the Cross rather than the babe in the manger. For three-quarters of that history, however, New Year’s Eve was celebrated on 31st March. It was the French who changed the start of the year to Jan 1st in 1564, so that New Year gifts and cards were then transferred to January.

Obviously, everyone likes fresh starts and new opportunities, the chance to make resolutions, so the largely secular festival has won out over the Church’s celebration of the naming of Jesus, which I introduced yesterday and will write more about tomorrow. For the Eve of this celebration, the Methodist leader inaugerated the Watch Night Service still held in many parishes and wrote a special hymn for it, ‘Come let us anew our journey pursue’.

However, most people welcome in the New Year in Britain outside the Church, in pubs, clubs, hotels, in the streets, or at home. I remember, as a teenager, being sent by my school at New Year for a ‘Council for Education in World Citizenship’ Conference, which meant staying in a London hotel on New Year’s Eve. Naturally, our group wanted to go to Trafalgar Square for the celebrations, but on the way there by ‘tube’ I got off the train a stop early. Before I had noticed, the ‘sliding doors’ had closed and I was stranded, on my own in a strange city. As I made my way towards Nelson’s Column, looking for my own schoolmates, and failing to find them, I enjoyed a series of ‘interactions’ and conversations with revellers from all parts of London and further afield. After midnight, when everyone greeted everone else they could with ‘Happy New Year’ and kisses from strange girls were abundant, I was almost glad I’d lost my friends and been forced out of my natural shyness, introversion and traditional British reserve! Looking back on it now, and having since watched the film ‘Sliding Doors‘, I often wonder what would have happened had I been able to get back on that train, and not had to renew and ‘pursue’ my journey alone. Would I have missed one of those crucial turning points in my formative experiences? Trafalgar Square was, quite literally as well as metaphorically, just that for me.

English: Fireworks over Edinburgh on New Year'...

In Scotland, the New Year is called ‘Hogmanay’, from the Old French ‘Au gui l’an neuf’ – ‘To the Mistletoe, the New Year’, the Druidical greeting given by revellers returning from the woods with boughs of mistletoe, like the one hanging from my first floor balcony. At midnight comes a note of solemnity and slight apprehension with the New Year ceremony of ‘first footing’. The household, in silence, listens for the stroke of midnight. As the last stroke of the twelve is sounded a knock at the door is heard. The door opens, revealing a strange man with dark hair. He enters without greeting, carrying a branch and a sprig of mistletoe. The branch he puts on the fire, the mistletoe on the mantelpiece. Then the silence is broken and he is given wine and cake by the master of the house and all greet each other with the New Year toast. The stranger may also bring bread, salt and coal, the symbols of hospitality and warmth. He can be offered a piece of silver and usually the stranger takes the mistletoe under which he kisses all the ladies!

The stranger represents the new-born year which comes in uninvited and cannot be turned away, bringing the promise of the light and warmth of the sun, made welcome in the darkest days of midwinter. The stranger might be asked to ‘first foot’ several times in the neighbourhood, but if no stranger was available, a member of the household would perform the ceremony, masked. More recently, a new variant of the custom has arisen, one which I participated in on my only visit to Edinburgh at New Year. All the men at a party go out just before midnight and all re-enter, following the youngest of the group.  This merges the pagan tradition with the Christian one whereby the whole company went out shortly after midnight to offer triangular mince-pies known as ‘God’ cakes which symbolised the Trinity.

English: Robert Burns Source: Image:Robert bur...
English: Robert Burns Source: Image:Robert burns.jpg Replacement of existing commons image with higher res version (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1841 Queen Victoria ordered New Year to be welcomed by a fanfare of trumpets, which, she observed ‘had a fine solemn effect which quite affected dear Albert, who turned pale, and had tears in his eyes, and pressed my hand very warmly.’ Of course, most of us ordinary folk have to make do with rather badly and incorrectly sung versions of ‘Auld Lang Syne‘ by Robert Burns.

 

37 Auld Lang Syne
37 Auld Lang Syne (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Burns’ last line was not ‘for the sake of auld lang syne’…but…

‘And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere

And gies a hand o’thine

And we’ll tak a right guid-willie waught,

For auld lang syne’

Happy New Year! I hope it brings you resolutions to current conflicts and problems, fresh opportunities and turning points, with the courage to set off anew in pursuit of different routes on your journey.

 

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Sixth Day of Christmas: 30th December: The Refugees’ Return from Gaza   1 comment

Matthew 2 vv19-23 (Good News):

‘After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go back to the land of Israel, because those who tried to kill the child are dead.” So Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went back to Israel.

‘But when Joseph heard that Archelaus had succeeded his father Herod as king of Judea, he was afraid to go there. He was given more instructions in a dream, so he went to the province of Galilee and made his home in a town named Nazareth. And so what the prophet had said came true: “He will be called a Nazarene” ‘

English: Herod Archelaus was the ethnarch of S...
English: Herod Archelaus was the ethnarch of Samaria, Judea, and Edom from 4 BC to 6 AD. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As an historian, I find this piece both fascinating and puzzling, because it underlines the differences between the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke’s gospels. Up until the end of Matthew’s account, the accounts can interlace. However, Luke ends his account with the passage above, whereas Luke concludes with Jesus’ naming and presentation in Jerusalem, which he dates, according to ‘the Law of Moses’ as a week after the child’s birth and the visit of the shepherds. Also, this is the first mention Matthew makes of Nazareth. All his ‘reports’ come from Bethlehem, and here he feels the need to explain why the family settled in Nazareth and not in Bethlehem. Of course, he doesn’t say they were a Judean family either, but whereas Luke makes clear the reason they were ‘only visiting’ Bethlehem at the time of the birth, Matthew seems to suggest that they had to settle in Galilee because Judea was far too dangerous, despite the death of ‘Herod the Great‘. This also seems to suggest that, at the very least, Joseph had strong family ties to Bethlehem, which would have made an ‘undercover’ return to Judea possible. Indeed, the fact that Matthew does not refer to the birth taking place in the ’emergency accommodation’ of Luke’s ‘manger’ suggests that they had a family home in ‘the little town’ where they could stay, and that perhaps they had been on their way there when the baby arrived ‘prematurely’.

This view finds support from the apocryphal Gospel of James, which focuses in detail on the birth narratives, recording the birth as taking place in a cave used for keeping livestock, by the road to Bethlehem. For me, that makes the story even more human, having been through the ‘will we make it to the hospital before baby arrives’ scenario, like many other ‘expectant’ fathers!

English: This is a map of first century Iudaea...
English: This is a map of first century Iudaea Province that I created using Illustrator CS2. I traced this image for the general geographic features. I then manually input data from maps found in a couple of sources. Robert W. Funk and the Jesus Seminar. The Acts of Jesus. HarperSanFrancisco: 1998. p. xxiv. Michael Grant. Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels. Charles Scribner’s Sons: 1977. p. 65-67. John P. Meier. A Marginal Jew. Doubleday: 1991. p. 1:434. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, the more important difference, since the basis of the Christian faith is the historical Jesus, the incarnation in Earth’s space and time, is that, for the flight to Egypt, Herod’s death, the return and the presentation in the Temple to have all taken place within a week, would have been meant an action-packed week for a young mother and child, even if they had not gone much further along the road to Egypt than Gaza, as first century Palestinian refugees. Certainly, right up until the time of his death, which has been accurately dated to the end of March/ beginning of April 4 B.C., Herod was committing terrible atrocities on his own people. The following comes from the biblical scholar, Daniel B Wallace from www.bible.org, on the record of these provided by the Jewish historian:

‘Josephus tells us much about Herod. The best word to describe his reign is ‘overkill.’ He murdered his favourite wife’s father, drowned her brother–and even killed her! He executed one of his most trusted friends, his barber, and 300 military leaders–all in a day’s work! Then he slew three of his sons, allegedly suspecting them of treason. Josephus tells us that “Herod inflicted such outrages upon (the Jews) as not even a beast could have done if it possessed the power to rule over men” (Antiquities of the Jews 17:310). Killing babies was not out of character for this cruel king. And killing them up to two years old–to make sure he got the baby Jesus lines up with his insane jealousy for power.

‘Josephus might have omitted the slaying of the babies for one of two reasons: first, he was no friend of Christianity and he left it out intentionally; or second, just before Herod died he locked up 3000 of the nation’s leading citizens and gave orders that they were to be executed at the hour of his death. He wanted to make sure that there would be mourning when he died. . . Israel was so preoccupied with this that the clandestine murder of a few babies might have gone unnoticed. . .’

Watching again the scenes from North Korea at this time of year, three years ago, it was easy to see how, even in a world of mass and instantaneous communication, how it’s possible for dictators to hide the real truth of their tyranny behind a thin veneer of carefully choreographed, if seemingly spontaneous, devotion to a leader. When Jesus was born in the late winter or early spring of 4 B.C. he came into a country, Judea, which was a state living under terror, likely to continue under Herod’s successor. So, he became a refugee on the road through Gaza to Egypt, and grew up ‘in exile’ from his father’s ancestral home, in northern Palestine, or the kingdom of Israel, outside the jurisdiction of Archalaus, Herod’s son. There’s both a contemporary and timeless message in all that history somewhere, isn’t there? That’s what makes Christianity so unique as a faith. Emmanuel. God with us in every human experience.

Fifth Day of Christmas: Barbecue time! 29th December.   1 comment

When anyone asks me, ‘did you have a good Christmas?’ around this time, I usually answer in the present continuous. As Shakespeare knew well, there are twelve days to the festival, though these days the New Year celebration comes in the middle of these. Apparently, it was the French who ruined our traditional Christmas by, in 1564, decreeing that the New Year began on 1st January, not 1st April, as it had done up to then. We’re not exactly sure when the English followed suit, but the tradition of giving New Year cards and gifts and cards continued, for a joke, on what then became ‘April Fools’ Day‘. Jokes have to be made by mid-day on the day because that was originally when everybody had to get back to work after the first twelve hours of the New Year. Of course, most ‘gifts’ would have been given shortly after mid-night and people would have been given the twelve hours to sleep off the excesses of the night before.

When the Puritan Parliament prohibited Christmas festivities in the early 1640s, it was following the example set by the Scottish Presbyterians, since it needed their support in their increasingly common cause against the King and his revision of Cranmer’s Prayer Book, together with the imposition of an Episcopalian system on the Scots. Of course, at this time Scotland and England had separate parliaments, though ruled over by the same monarch. Christmas was viewed as a ‘Papist’ festival, lasting over twelve days of feasting, when little work got done. It was obvious to all that many of these festivities were pagan in origin and had no more to do with Christ’s birth than May Day had to do with Mary. While such festivities were restored in the “Merrie England” of Charles II, in Scotland they continued to be frowned upon until the 1950s, when the power of the Kirk finally began to wane, and the two-day Christmas holiday was officially reinstated. This explains why, to this day, the secular festival of “Hogmanay” or New Year remains the more important festival in Scotland, marked there by a two-day public holiday.

‘Holy Days’ are now reverting to being ‘holidays’ of course, as the now ubiquitous American English greeting ‘Happy holidays’ indicates, though, as my Vicar once reminded me, neither should Christians greet with ‘Happy Christmas’ until it actually comes, on the 25th, unless they are going away from their own parish. When St Augustine came to Canterbury, he realised the impracticability of eliminating former pagan customs in England. He didn’t object to people slaughtering an ox for the feast at a Christian celebration as they had done at their former rituals. This was called a ‘barbecue’, a word which describes the framework or table on which the ox is roasted, possibly an altar. It’s amusing to think that every time British or Australian people wheel out the ‘barbie’, they are in fact partaking in an ancient, pagan ritual, worshiping at the altar, no doubt with the ‘high-priest’ or ‘arch-druid’ in charge! A case of life imitating religion! Of course, only Aussies are able to do this ‘al fresco’ at Christmas, though our more hardy perennial ancestors would have seen it as being as much a winter custom as a fair-weather one, if not more so, gathering round the huge fire for warmth.

The Examination and Trial of Father Christmas,...

The Examination and Trial of Father Christmas, (1686), published shortly after Christmas was reinstated as a holy day in England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, these customs were not always welcomed by some clerics and certainly received a set-back under the strict Presbyterian governments of the mid-seventeenth century in England and Scotland. The easy return of ‘Merrie England’ under Charles II suggests that this has been exaggerated in its long-term effects, however. The motivation behind the discouragement of holidays was not solely religious, often reflecting a dissatisfaction with industrial or agricultural output, like Henry Ford‘s more recent support for Prohibition in the USA. In twelfth century Europe, including England, peasants’ holidays amounted to eight weeks in the year, with major festivals occupying ‘the octave’, eight days. Christmas, of course, headed the list, with its twelve days, with fun and games extending until Twelfth Night, with no New Year to get in the way then. While Church attendance was duly observed throughout, much of the celebration continued to owe far more to pre-Christian customs, which were not always very reverent.

Many festivals were lost with the new working patterns required by industrialisation from the mid-eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century, when Prince Albert and Charles Dickens effectively re-invented Christmas, importing German customs and reviving other more traditionally English ones. Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is often misread, with Scrooge appearing as an isolated miser, whereas the author actually meant it as an attack on the widespread support the Malthusian Poor Law System which all but did away with the system of outdoor relief for the ‘deserving poor’ which had existed since Elizabethan times. Just as a culture of ‘austerity’ has grown up in recent years, the 1830s had seen much popular support among the Victorian middle classes for the need to ‘reduce the surplus population’. Dickens was reminding these better-off Anglicans and Nonconformists of an older form of puritanism, which was most recently epitomised in the maxim of the great Methodist preacher John Wesley –  earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can. Dickens was not against the values of diligence and thrift, but he urged people not to forget the ‘greatest’ value, ‘love’ of fellow humans, or caritas in Latin, giving us the word charity, or philanthropy and philadelphia from the Greek. A holiday visit to the theatre to see a clever adaptation of the great story reminded me of these original themes, its title, in Hungarian, Isten Pénze, reminding audiences that, in the end, all the wealth that any of us have belongs to God.

In the twentieth century, with automation and computerisation, we experienced a return to a shorter working week, broken up by longer holidays, taken at different times, according to personal preferences and family priorities, rather than being dictated by the Church, Government, or corporate industrialists. However, we still feel the need for common customs, whether Christian or pagan in origin, perhaps even more so in a fast-changing world.

[Edinburgh from the castle, Scotland] (LOC)

[Edinburgh from the castle, Scotland] (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

Festivals need not be spectacular events, but events which bind us together with significant activities. There is nothing so sad as a child on holiday saying, ‘I’m bored…I have nothing to do!’ Some festivals in Britain have been brought into our lives by followers of other faiths, enabling mutual understanding and integration in schools and society. All religions celebrate with festivals of light, their longing for a future world which is pure, peaceful and commonly good.

New Year and Christmas have competed for popularity since the calendar has been in its present form and the two festivals have never been equally celebrated, for instance, in England, Wales and Scotland. As already noted, in England and Wales, Christmas has been the major festival, although as one travels north and west the emphasis on New Year ‘wassails’ and ‘waits’ increases, whereas in Scotland, certainly since the Calvinist Reformation, New Year, or ‘Hogmanay’ is kept with greater vigour and excitement.

Here in Hungary, everyone is getting ready for ‘Szilveszter Nap’ (St Silvester’s Day) as it is known. So, whether continuing to celebrate Christmas, or welcoming the New Year, we’re all looking forward, or trying to!

Fourth Day of Christmas: Holy Innocents: The Killing of the Children and the Escape to Egypt   2 comments

Massacre of the Innocents (1565-7), Royal Coll...

Massacre of the Innocents (1565-7), Royal Collection, London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fourth Day of Christmas: Holy Innocents: The Killing of the Children and the Escape to Egypt

by Andrew Chandler on Friday 28 December 2012 at 08:23

The fourth day of Christmas, 28th, belongs to the Holy Innocents, recalling the fury of Herod when he learned that the wise men had found the child they looked for, but not returned to his court to report the find, choosing to return to their own country by another road, ‘since God had warned them in a dream not to go back to Herod’ (Matthew 2 v 12). The gospel-writer continues (vv 13-18, ‘Good News for Modern Man’):

The Escape to Egypt

‘After they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph and sais “Herod will be looking for the child in

order to kill him. So get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you to leave.”

‘Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and left during the night for Egypt, where he stayed until Herod died. This was done to make come true what the Lord had said through the prophet, “I called my son out of Egypt.” ‘

The Killing of the Children

‘When Herod realised that the visitors from the East had tricked him, he was furious. He gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its neighbourhood who were two years old and younger – this was done in accordance with what he had learned from the visitors about the time when the star had appeared. In this way what the prophet Jeremiah had said came true:

“A sound is heard in Ramah,

the sound of bitter weeping.

Rachel is crying for her children;

she refuses to be comforted,

for they are dead.”

This story evokes memories of the Jewish captivity in Egypt when, fearing that the Jewish population was growing too numerous, the Pharaoh ordered all Jewish boy children to be killed at birth. Moses was saved then through the courage and ingenuity of his sister Miriam, and an angel of the Lord later avenged the deaths of the children, ‘passing over’ the homes of the Hebrews in visiting plague upon the new-born Egyptians, as the story goes.

ceausescu still present in our public space
Ceausescu still present in our public space (Photo credit: energeticspell)

1989: The Fall of Romania’s Herod

The story is also a poignant and timely reminder of the evils of dictatorship. It was at this Christmas time, twenty-five years ago, in 1989, that the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu fell in Bucharest in the last of a series of revolutions which swept across Central-Eastern Europe in 1989. I remember the parallels which were dawn at that time between Ceausescu and Herod, though it was only some time later that the full horror of Romania’s orphanages were revealed. The revolution had begun in Transylvania, in the Hungarian-minority and dissident city of Timisoara, or Temesvár, where the secret police had opened fire on protesters who had gathered in support of the outspoken Reformed Church ‘pasztor’, Laszló Tökes.

On 22 December, Ceausescu staged a ‘demonstration of support’ in Bucharest which was infiltrated by dissidents who began cat-calling, booing and whistling. They were joined by those more forcibly assembled, and Ceausescu was forced to break off his speech, retire from the balcony and flee with his hated wife, Elena. They were caught, put on trial by the new military regime which had won a three day battle for control of the capitol, and shot on Christmas Day, their bodies being shown on television. By the end of 1989, the leaders of nearly all the ‘satellite’ Soviet states had been forced to hand over power. Except for Romania, hardly a drop of blood had been spilt. It was an ‘annus mirablis’ in the way that 2011 will be seen, if it isn’t already earning that accolade due to the uncertain outcome of violent events in Syria and elsewhere.

Since the time of King Saul, God had warned the Hebrews of the consequences of choosing Kings to rule over them, and ignoring the prophets. The story of the Massacre of the Innocents and the Escape to Egypt, with Jesus becoming a refugee almost at birth, is a reminder of the costs of upholding dictatorship which are almost always visited on innocent generations to come. Pharaohs, Caesars and Herods will continue to come to power, unless challenged. Jesus himself epitomised this by ‘speaking truth to power’ to both Pilate and Herod, confrontations which led to his own bloody sacrifice for our freedom from tyrrany.

The ‘Coventry Carol‘ was performed as part of the pageant of the Guild of ‘Shearmen’ and Tailors on the 28th December, Holy Innocents’ Day, outside the Medieval Cathedral, the ruins of which themselves later became a symbol of resistance to dictatorship and commitment to reconciliation, linking the city to cities throughout the world, including Kecskemét in Hungary, where I live now. The dramatic contrast between Mary’s peaceful lullaby and Herod’s raging must have served as a warning to the city’s citizens about the ever-present proximity of violence and tyranny, at a time when Yorkist and Lancastrian Kings were warring with each other outside the city’s gate. We know that the Mystery Plays were watched in 1484 and 1492 respectively by both Richard III, whom Shakespeare later portrayed as a hunch-backed tyrant, murdering the innocent young princes in the Tower of London, and Henry VII, who had deposed Richard at nearby Bosworth Field, and was struggling to establish his Tudor dynasty with a combination of terror and guile. One wonders what was going through their minds as they watched the portrayal of ‘Herod’s Raging’ and the ‘Massacre of the Innocents’:

‘Charged he hath this day,

His men of might,

In his own sight,

All young children to slay.

‘That woe is me,

Poor child for thee!

And ever morn and day,

For thy parting,

Neither say nor sing,

By by, lully lullay!’

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The Third Day of Christmas: St John the Evangelist: The Light of Mankind   1 comment

English: St John the evangelist

English: St John the evangelist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The third day of Christmas, 27th December, apart from its association with ‘three French hens’ in the popular song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, is devoted by the Church to St John the Evangelist, the ‘disciple whom Jesus loved‘ and the writer of the fourth gospel. The opening of this gospel provides the ninth ‘lesson’ in the service of nine lessons and carols, and is a fitting ‘lesson’ on the significance of Christ‘s Coming, contrasting with the narratives of Matthew and Luke which precede it.

 

Ninth lesson: John 1, vv1-14:

‘Before the world was created, the Word already existed; he was with God, and he was the same as God. Through him God made all things; not one thing in all creation was made without him. The Word was the source of life, and this source of life, and this life brought life to mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.

‘God sent his messenger, a man named John, who came to tell people about the light, so that all should hear the message and believe. He himself was not the light; he came to tell about the light. This was the real light – the light that comes into the world and shines on all mankind.

‘The Word was in the world, and though God made the world through him, yet the world did not recognise him. Some, however, did receive him and believed in him; so he gave them the right to become God’s children. They did not become God’s children by natural means, that is, by being born as the children of a human father; God himself was their Father.

‘The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us. We saw his glory, the glory which he received as the Father‘s only son.’

Pantomime Season   1 comment

English: Harlequin and Columbine from the mime...

English: Harlequin and Columbine from the mime theater at Tivoli, Denmark. Dansk: Harlekin og Columbine i pantomimeteatret i Tivoli. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Boxing Day and the days following often see the start of the pantomime season in Britain, although the 20th century shows presented in the professional theatres are often little more than musical reviews paying lip-service to the stories advertised in their titles. Even after the growth of the ‘sophisticated’ adult pantomimes of the English theatre, based on popular fairy tales like Cinderella, Puss-in-Boots and Dick Whittington, some respect was paid to the real pantomime of the Italian Commedia dell’Arte by adding an impromptu Harlequinade after the main presentation. This little comedy with Harlequin, Columbine, Pantaloon the clown, and so on, using numerous swing-doors and trap-doors, was still a part of English pantomime well into the 1920s. With the revival of pantomime in the 1970s, some companies have reintegrated these elements in the main pantomime, for young audiences, involving them through interactive participation. However, health and safety inspectors have made this more difficult, banning the throwing of boiled sweets into the audience, etc., perhaps with some justification. Playing ‘Five Wits’ in a performance of ‘Everyman’ in the 1980s, I was reprimanded for throwing a bread roll into the audience, accidentally hitting the Chairman of Governor’s wife!

Weston Mummers
Weston Mummers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another form of theatrical presentation with an even older ancestry, often seen at Christmas time, is the presentation of the Mummers’ Play, probably as popular today in some places as ever, following the folk revival and the enduring popularity of Morris (‘Moorish’) Dancing since the 1960s. The words of the play are rarely written down, as it is meant to be open to interpretation and improvisation. Traditionally, the players are ordinary country folk, getting together to rehearse and then, at Christmas, presenting an ancient story evoking the England of the Crusades and perhaps stirring even more distant memories of the Slain God of the Winter Solstice, yet not so dead as to be able to live again with the coming lengthening days. The principal characters are Father Christmas, Turkey Snipe (no connection with the bird!), Quack Doctor, Robin Hood and so on. Aside from these common personae, there are as many versions as there are companies that present the plays, often accompanied by a programme of Morris Dancing.

This year, 2015, we are keeping up this theatrical tradition by going to see Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at the Katona Theatre in Kecskemét, Hungary. A familiar piece in any language!

Nine Lessons and Carols (in three languages)   1 comment

Nine Lessons and Carols (A Personal Selection):

Processional Carol: Once in Royal David’s City

1&2. Readings from Genesis: Curses and Blessings on Mankind.

First Lesson: Genesis 3, vv8-19:

‘And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day; and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. And the LORD God called unto the man, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. And he said, Who told you that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this thou hast done? And the woman said, the serpent beguiled me, and I did eat. And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, cursed art thou above all cattle, and from among every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put emnity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in toil shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field: In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.’

Carols: Adam Lay Ybounden,  Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

Second Lesson: Genesis 22, vv15-18:

‘And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham a second time out of heaven, And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.’

Advent (Bidding) Prayer – The Antiphons for Emmanuel

O wisdom of the Most High that spannest the universe, mightily and sweetly ordering all things; come and teach us the way of understanding. O Adonai and leader of the house of Israel, who didst appear to Moses in the flame of the burning bush and gavest the law on Sinai; come and deliver us with an outstretched arm. O root of Jesse, who standest for an ensign to the people, before whom kings shall shut their mouths, whom nations shall intreat; come and deliver us, tarry not. O key of David and sceptre of the house of Israel, who openest and no man shutteth, and shuttest and no man openeth; come and release the souls of men from their prison house. O dayspring, splendour of the eternal light, and sun of righteousness; come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. O king of all nations, whom they long for, the corner-stone that bindest all in one; come and save men whom thou formedst from the clay. O Emmanuel, our king and law-giver, the Saviour whom we look for; come and save us, O Lord, our God. AMEN.

Carols: O Come, O Come, Immanuel; Hark the Herald Angels Sing

3&4.  Isaiah fortells the coming of the Christ-child.

Third Lesson: Isaiah 9, vv2, 6-7:

‘The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined…For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The might God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgement and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.’

Fourth Lesson: Isaiah 11, vv1-3a, 4a, 6-9:

‘And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD; and shall make him quick of understanding in the fear of the LORD:..But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth:..The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.’

From the Authorised (‘King James’) Version.

Carols: There is no Rose of Such Virtue, Candlelight Carol

Sans Day Carol (trad., Cornish, arr. Rutter):

This Carol was named after the Cornish saint St Day, whose church in the parish of Gwennap was where much of it was written down. St Day was a Breton saint whose cult was widespread in Celtic Cornwall. It was preserved by the vicar who wrote it down in an English version after hearing it sung by an old man. A Cornish version, ‘Ma gron war’n gelinen’, was published later, adding the fourth verse to the English version:

“Now the holly bears a berry, as blood it is red,

Then trust we our Saviour, who rose from the dead:

“And Mary bore Jesus Christ, our Saviour for to be,

And the first tree in the greenwood, it was the holly..”

5. The Birth of Jesus Announced

The Fifth lesson, Luke 1 vv 26-38:

‘In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy God sent the angel Gabriel to a town in Galilee named Nazareth. He had a message for a girl promised in marriage to a man named Joseph, who was a descendant of King David. The girl’s name was Mary. The angel came to her and said, “Peace be with you! The Lord is with you and has greatly blessed you!” Mary was deeply troubled by the angel’s message, and she wondered what his words meant. The angel said to her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary; God has been gracious to you. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God. The Lord will make him a King, as his ancestor David was, and he will be the king of the descendants of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end!”

Mary said to the angel, “I am a virgin. How, then, can this be?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you. For this reason the holy child will be called the Son of God. Remember your relative Elizabeth. It is said that she cannot have children, but she herself is now six months pregnant, even though she is very old. For there is nothing that God cannot do.”

“I am the Lord’s servant” said Mary; “may it happen to me as you have said”. And the angel left her.

Mary’s song (in Hungarian, by Mihály Babits):

“Üdvözlégy óh Szűzek Szűze,

aki megváltónkat szülte!

Te vagy ama Tenger-Tűze,

csalhatatlan csillaga:

Az élet tengere ringat;

ne engedd törni hajónkat!

Kérd érettünk Megváltónkat:

imádj Istent, Mária!…

Jézus, óh szent méh magzatja,

légy a világ áradatja

közt menekvés szabad útja,

égi révbe vezető:

tartsd a kormányt, vidd a gályát,

csillapítsd a hab dagályát,

adj kegyedben könnyü pályát!

Vár az édes kikötő…

Carols: The Virgin Mary had a Baby Boy; Mary had a Baby

6. Sixth Lesson: Luke (Luc) 2, vv1, 3-7 (in Welsh):

Genedigaeth Iesu:

‘Yn y dyddiau hynny aeth gorchymyn allan oddi wrth Cesar Awgwatus i gofrestru’r holl Ymerodaeth…Fe aeth pawb felly i’w cofrestru, pob un i’w dref ei hun. Oherwydd ei fod yn perthyn i dí a theulu Dafydd, aeth Joseff i fyny o dref Nasareth yng Ngalilea i Jwdea, i dref Dafydd, a elwir Bethlehem, i ymgofrestru ynghyd á Mair ei ddyweddi; ac yr oedd hi1n feichiog. Pan oeddent yno, cyflawnwyd yr amser iddi esgor, ac esgorodd ar ei mab cyntafanedig; a rhwymodd ef mewn dillad baban a’i osod mewn preseb, am nad oedd lle iddynt yn y gwesty.”

A Carol in Welsh: Tua Bethlehem Dref; Suo Gán

7. Seventh Lesson: Luke (Lukács Evangéliuma) 2, vv8-16 (in Hungarian): 

The visit of the shepherds:

‘Pasztorok tanyáztak azon a vidéken a szabad ég alatt, és őrködtek éjsaka a nyájuk mellett. És az Úr angyala megjelent nekik, körülragyogta őket az Úr dicsőseége, és nagy fegelem vett erőt rajtuk. Az angyal pedig ezt monta nekik:

“Ne féljetek, mert ime, hirdetek nagy örömet, amely az egész nép öröme lesZ: Üdvözitő született ma nektek, aki az Úr Krisztus, a Dávid városában. A jel pedig ez lesz számotokra: találtok egy kisgyermeket, aki bepólyálva fekszik a jászollban.”

És hirtelen mennyei seregek sokasága jelent meg az angyallal, akik dicsérték az Istent, és ezt mondták:

“Dicsőség a magassában Istennek, és a földön békesség, és az emberekhez jóakarat.”

Miután elmentek tőlük az angyalok a mennybe, a pásztorok igy szóltak egymáshoz:

“Menjünk el egészen Betlehemig, és nézzük meg: hogyan is történt mindaz, amiről üzent nekünk az Úr.”

Elmentek tehát sietve, és megtalátak Máriát, Józsefet és a jászolban fekvő kisgyermeket.’

Carols in Hungarian: Pastorok, Pasztorok; Áldott Éj (Soha nem volt még..)

8. Eighth Lesson: Matthew 2, vv1-12: Visitors from the East

Eighth Lesson: Matthew 2, vv1-12:

‘Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem in Judea, during the time when Herod was king. Soon afterward, some men who studied the stars came from the East to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the baby born to be the king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east, and we have come to worhip him. When King Herod heard about this, he was upset, and so was everyone else in Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the teachers of the Law and asked them, “Where will the Messiah be born?” “In the town of Bethlehem in Judea” they replied, “For this is what the prophet wrote:

‘Bethlehem in the land of Judah,

you are by no means the least of

the leading cities of Judah;

for from you will come a leader

who will guide my people Israel.’ “

‘So Herod called the visitors from the East to a secret meeting and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem with these instructions: “Go and make a careful search for the child; and when you find him, let me know, so that I too may go and worship him.”

‘And so they left, and on their way they saw the same star they had seen in the East. When they saw it, how happy they were, what joy was theirs! It went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. They went into the house, and when they saw the child with his mother Mary, they knelt down and worshipped him. They brought him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and presented them to him. Then they returned to their country by another road, since God had warned them in a dream not to go back to Herod.”

Carols: Out of the Orient Crystal Skies:

‘Out of the Orient Crystal Skies, a blazing star did shine, showing the place where poorly lies, a blessed babe divine, born of a maid of royal blood, who Mary hight by name, a sacred rose which once did bud, by grace of heavenly flame’. It goes on to describe how the star guided the ‘three kings’ to the ‘silly poor manger’ and how the shepherds ‘came singing all even in a rout, ‘Falan-tiding-dido!’.

I don’t have a recording of ‘Falan-Tiding’ sung to Tyrolean tune, ‘Ihr Hirten, stehet alle auf’ of about 1610. The contemporary five-part madrigal setting by Richard Zgdova is frequently sung by madrigal choirs in the US, and I have found an early English tune by William Byr

The Coventry Carol (trad., English): 

This is probably the oldest carol in English, dating from at least the time Chaucer was writing his ‘Canterbury Tales’. When the Pope banned drama from church services in the thirteenth century, the Guilds gradually developed pageants, or mystery plays for performance in the market places outside, and the Coventry plays ran from 1400 to 1450, and have been more recently revived on the new Cathedral steps. This tradition led to the writing of religious songs in the venacular, gradually substituting folk-song and dance-tunes for the liturgical Latin music sung inside. The text of the carol was first printed in 1534, but the plays were witnessed by Margaret, Henry VI’s Queen, in 1456, by Richard III in 1484 and Henry VII in 1492. The Carol was for the Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors, probably performed on Holy Innocents’ Day, hence the contrast between the lullaby and Herod’s massacre of the children in the second verse, followed by the departure for Egypt in the third. The tune dates from 1591, in its recorded form, but the Smith’s play was still being performed in 1584, so it is probably much older if not original.

9. The Ninth Lesson: Jn 1 vv 1-4: The Gospel is Proclaimed.

Carols: In The Bleak Midwinter; O Little Town of Bethlehem

Benediction

Recessional Carol: O Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles).

Posted December 24, 2012 by TeamBritanniaHu in Uncategorized

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