Causes for carolling


photo: Sarah J. Jamieson

Here’s a mid-winter, end of millennium poem by Thomas Hardy, The Darkling Thrush.   It’s a good one for anyone who feels ‘fervourless’ at this point of the festive season.  Christmas, tick, New Year, tick.  Now what?

We’ve had wet, windy weather for weeks now and even when it abates briefly, the ground is so sodden and streams so swollen, it’s difficult to walk anywhere in the woods.  I find myself envying Thomas Hardy who is at least able to lean on his coppice gate to clock the bine-stems and the land’s sharp features.

Next stop for those who keep the twelve days, is Twelfth Night on Sunday or Monday (depending on whether you celebrate the eve or on the day).  It’s then a clear run until Blue Monday on the 20th January – statistically, in the UK at least,  allegedly the gloomiest day of the year.  That’s when it all comes at once –  bad weather, high bills, back to work blues and a realisation that, in spite of the promise of a fresh start in the New Year, things are pretty much the same.

Paradoxically though,  knowing you are likely to feel down on the third Monday of January helps lift the spirits. There’s often a kind of recreational gloom on that day.  In poetry therapy, it’s called the ‘isoprinciple’ – the idea that congruence is comforting, and why The Darkling Thrush can be more helpful than a jolly take on New Year.

It’s harder when one’s spirits feel out of kilter with the public mood.  I enjoy the build-up to Christmas and Christmas itself but tend to feel reflective and reclusive at New Year and have to justify this to myself somehow.  The internet world though helps – I’m not the only one it seems.

But reasons to be cheerful – the windy weather is at least mild and there’s an audible dawn chorus, birds like Hardy’s thrush flinging their souls into the gloom. And this year has provided a feast of human carolling.

I went singing door-to-door with the neighbours and feel more and more at home in this somewhat eccentric corner of Canterbury. A singing teacher led us at a community gathering  in the ancient church at Harbledown which lifted both the volume and quality.  Carols in my packed local pub led by the choir of St Stephens Church opposite probably go back to 1570 when the Olde Beverlie was then the home of the church warden who had a side line in brewing. There was also fabulous singing on Christmas Eve in town, pictured, which features the strange bobbing dance to We Three Kings that I think is specific to Canterbury.   The new Archbishop of Canterbury joined in on an open top bus and rather touchingly had to be reminded his job was to offer a prayer.

I will celebrate Twelfth Night though on Sunday.  A final cause for carolling and I hope there’ll be a good rendition of the Twelve Days of Christmas to close the season.  Like many carols, this has a fascinating provenance going back to a French rhyme translated into English in 1780 – our present day version comes from 1909.  And I wish some ‘blessed hope’ to those I love who are having hard times at the moment.