Your favorite Christmas carol depends on what type of music you like. There are people with favorite songs emphasizing Santa, others more religious melodies, and even favorite rocker Christmas songs.

However, we were surprised at what choral directors recently picked as their favorite carol of all time. Topping the list was In the Bleak Midwinter! It’s a beautiful song, with wonderful words and music, but we would not have thought it the very top.

That list:

1. In the Bleak Midwinter
2. In Dulci Jubilo (Good Christian Men, Rejoice).
3. A Spotless Rose, a 16th Century German hymn.
4. Bethlehem Dawn, 1927, submitted for a British Daily Telegraph contest, which won!
5. Lully, Lulla, a 16th century carol.
6. Tomorrow Shall be My Dancing Day, a 19th century English carol.
7. There is No Rose, from 1420, another traditional carol.
8. O Come All Ye Faithful, a favorite of many. The music was a Portuguese song, with words from an Englishman in 1841.
9. Of the Father’s Heart Begotten, from the 5th century.
10. What Sweeter Music, the most recent, from 1987, by John Ratter.

What did you notice of this list of carols?

Well, some favorites of mine were certainly not included. The first question might be “Where’s Silent Night? Or Noel? Or Hark! The Herald Angels Sing! OrIt Came Upon a Midnight Clear? And God Rest You Merry Gentlemen, Away in a Manger or Little Town of Bethlehem. And (another one we like) Good King Wenceslas? But remember those chosen were not popular favorites, you might say, but the choice of professional musicians, choirmasters from England and the United States.

Then, there are none of the more modern “commercial” Christmas songs, such as Jingle Bells, Rudolph, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, or The Twelve Days of Christmas.

Now, let’s turn to the top choice, In the Bleak Midwinter. It was originally a poem by Christina Rossetti, who lived from 1830-94, and who was sister to the artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. She was known for her religious poetry.

This poem of hers focuses on the forlorn Jesus, entirely unrecognized at birth, and loved by an unknown-to-the-world mother and her distinctive husband. Though the world knew little of this birth, “Angels and archangels/All gathered there” around the new babe, says the poet. The poem gained attention in the early 20th century when Gustav Holst (1874-1934), an English composer, set it to music.

Now read the words of In the Bleak Midwinter.

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone:
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign:
In the bleak midwinter
A stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for him, whom Cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk,
And a manger full of hay:
Enough for him, whom angel
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him
Give my heart.

* * * * *

Merry Christmas to all!

Photo by aussie via Flickr photostream, used with Creative Commons 2.0 License.
Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack is a native Georgian and veteran newspaperman. He published the weekly Wayne County Press for 12 years; was for 13 years the vice president and general manager of Gwinnett Daily News, and for 13 years was associate publisher of the Gwinnett section of The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. He now publishes, in retirement, Web sites on Gwinnett County,, and Georgia news,

One Comment
  1. Nice and meaningful story. The lyrics are profound, proof that the higher echelons of music know their stuff. I’m delighted to share this with others.

    Merry Christmas.

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