Monday, December 12, 2011

The Best Christmas Carols You've Never Heard

Heap on more wood!--the wind is chill;
But let it whistle as it will,
We'll keep our Christmas merry still.

(Sir Walter Scott, Marmion)

Some might call me a Christmas music snob. I consider myself a devout purist. Years ago I set aside Frosty and Rudolph in favor of holiday tunes of an ancient variety embraced by our ancestors. Christmas revelers in 16th century Europe sang a mixture of religious and pagan hymns at Yule tide, none of which included “Do They Know It’s Christmastime at All?” or any references to Comet, Cupid, Donder or Blitzen.

Before you call me a humbug, let me say that I absolutely love Christmas music. It’s just that the music that warms me most at Christmas time is that of the oldest carols. These songs roll back the centuries and connect us to our ancestors, who huddled around fires and roasted the last fatted pig to get themselves through the winter. And so in the spirit of merriment I present to you the best Christmas carols you’ve never heard. So give yourself a break from Justin Bieber’s rendition of “Let it Snow” and indulge your ears with these ancient melodies. I made all of these youtube videos myself so it’s safe to click on them. Merry Christmas!

Célébrons la Naissance, 16th century French carol

Rosa Minstrels

Riu Riu, 16th century Catalan (Spanish) hymn

Anuna, Celtic Origins

Il Est Ne, Le Divin Enfant, 17th century French carol

(Sometimes heard in English as “He is born, the holy child”)

Diane Taraz, Hope! Says the Holly

Gaudete, 16th century Latin carol, believed to have originated in Scandinavia

The Boar’s Head Carol, 15th century English

(This one was in my mother’s piano book but I’ve never heard it played in the USA)

The Cheiftans, Bells of Dublin

Monday, December 5, 2011

Texas in my Rearview Mirror

The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.
-Maya Angelou

For the greater part of my life, I have had a troubled relationship with my homeland. My Scottish DNA never adapted to the Texas heat. I melt like an ice cube in Hades and sunburn quicker than you can say, “Pass the Coppertone.” The allergens, bugs and politics irritate the sanity right out of me. I spent years dreaming about living somewhere else – somewhere cold, free of bugs and of self-righteous hatred for those who are different. You know what they say: Be careful what you wish for or you just might get it. Now I’m living in Scotland, my dream destination. It’s plenty cold and I’m not allergic to everything that grows. I get to enjoy learning a different cultural style and trying out new foods, new hobbies and new ways of thinking. I feel connected to my ancient foremothers and forefathers who were forced to quit this verdant land under genocidal circumstances. In some small way, my being here reverses their forced emigration.

And yet, I miss Texas. I find myself becoming an enthusiastic connoisseur of bar-be-que and tacos, foods I never cared much about before. I get excited when I see Texas on the news. I’m regularly tempted to drop Spanish words into conversation, which are never understood here. (If the Scots think Mexican food includes fried chicken with bbq sauce in a “fuh-jie-tuh” then they certainly don’t stand a chance of understanding my frequent use of “no me gusta.”) On my recent visit with my family, I found myself appreciating the Texas sun, wide open spaces and even occasionally country music (quite a shock as I’ve always hated it). My English friend, Jan, once said to me that when you’re back in the place where you grew up as a child, you can relax into a state of being that needs no translation. I think it takes living away from one’s hometown to understand the bliss that can come from a visit to the place where one has universal understanding, and one’s cultural translation muscles are allowed to atrophy.

I don’t have a desire to live in Texas again, especially considering that the very air closes up my lungs and sends me straight to the allergist. But living away helps me love and appreciate my home state as I never have before. I have become the Texas Ambassador to Scotland, enthusiastically importing Stubb’s bbq sauce for all who are deemed worthy of its glory, telling everyone who asks that yes, Texas really IS that big; It’s bigger than France! I find myself far more proud of my state when abroad than I ever was at home, despite Rick Perry’s frequent attempts to make me hide my face in shame. In the immortal words of Mac Davis, “I thought happiness was Texas in my rear view mirror . . . but now happiness is Texas gettin’ nearer and dearer.”

Photo: Paul and me goofing off in cowboy hats.

Song of the day: Texas in my Rear-view Mirror by Mac Davis