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A carol for the darkest day of the year
Sasha Blaze
sedens
When I was in the fifth grade or so, I became a passionate collector of Christmas songs and folk songs from every source I could get my hands on. My school allowed us to order (through Weekly Reader--remember Weekly Reader?) from dear old Scholastic Books, and in their catalog, I spotted a reprint of a collection called A Wreath of Carols. (It came with a 45 rpm record . . . oh, glory!) At the time, I didn't appreciate the fact that the arrangements in the book had been written by the jazz/Latin musician Carla Bley, but I did intuitively know that there was something special about the little book's eclectic mixture of new, old, familiar, and odd. This was the early '70s; the collection's copyright date, now that I look, is 1966, so it fits into an interesting--and eclectic--American musical context, right there.

My young imagination was instantly captured by one of the odd and new carols in the book, and that carol has been in my mind ever since. The older I get, the more I understand why its wild speculative theology and its openness to mystery appeal to me. I dug out the yellowing, brittle little paperback with the rest of the Christmas music, a few weeks ago, and I've been playing and singing this one a lot during what has turned out to be a dark and wildly mixed (hope and fear; grief and happiness; completion and postponement) December.

Both text and tune are by Sydney Carter, whom I usually only associate with "Lord of the Dance" (no, not THAT one! The Easter hymn, set to the Shaker tune "Simple Gifts," that begins "I danced in the morning . . .").

So without further ado:

Every star shall sing a carol!
Every creature, high or low,
Come and praise the King of Heaven
By whatever name you know.

God above, Man below,
Holy is the name I know.

When the King of all creation
Had a cradle on the earth,
Holy was the human body,
Holy was the human birth.

God above, Man below,
Holy is the name I know.

Who can tell what other cradle
High above the Milky Way
Still may rock the King of Heaven
On another Christmas Day?

God above, Man below,
Holy is the name I know.

Who can count how many crosses,
Still to come or long ago,
Crucify the King of Heaven?
Holy is the name I know.

God above, Man below,
Holy is the name I know.

Who can tell what other body
He will hallow for His own?
I will praise the Son of Mary,
Brother of my blood and bone.

God above, Man below,
Holy is the name I know.

Every star and every planet,
Every creature high and low,
Come and praise the King of Heaven
By whatever name you know.

God above, Man below,
Holy is the name I know.
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What a beautifully embracing sentiment. I should love to hear it.

The tune is really, truly lovely; I keep wondering whether it's based on a folk tune, but I've never done enough digging to find out. When I have time (i.e., after tomorrow evening!), I'll get my printer/scanner going again and see if I can upload the page from the carol book to post here. Nobody wants to suffer through my singing on a voicepost . . . trust me. ;-)

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