I'm going to be publishing a shortlist of carols and, towards Christmas, I'll choose one as the 'Ultimate Carol'. I'll list the other categories in the coming days but The Best Christmas Carol is the most important category.
I did think about opening the results up to a public vote but:
- I can't be arsed
- Only two people would vote (both me from different IP addresses)
- Last time I opened up the comments section on this blog someone helpfully pointed out that I was a sad, pathetic man with no friends who was probably sat in his underpants spewing forth vitriol at the world to hide the fact that he was an inadequate loser.*
So, here is the shortlist:-
- Every Star Shall Sing A Carol
- God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
- The Star Carol
- In the Bleak Mid-Winter
- See Amid the WInter's Snow
Contenders that just missed out:-
- Little Donkey
- O Little Town of Bethlehem
- Ding Dong Merrily On High
- O Come, All Ye Faithful
So what am I looking for? Well, it's a cocktail, naturally enough. Tune and melody - of course. Many carols fall by the wayside with their insipid or dirge-like melodies. There's a reason why there's about 15 well known carols - many of the others are poor.
Secondly, nostalgia and the power of memory. For a few years I was a Church of England choirboy. But also my schools used to sing carols as part of unashamedly Christian assemblies. Carols were as much a part of Christmas as anything else. Increasingly, in my evolving memory, carols are a growing part of the experience. Which leads me to the third criteria; the spine tingling feeling you get from a carol being sung at full-blast, led by an organ and choir belting out a full counterpointed arrangement as they deliver the nativity story with power and eloquence. A musical but muscular Christianity indeed!
I'm not ashamed to say - I'm a cultural Christian. As I get older I know, it's who I am. It's home. And what better way than through melody to evoke childhood? I'm already looking forward to my one church visit a year when I take my kids to the local Church of England candlelit carol service next week. I spend most of the service with tears in my eyes. Happy tears.
So there are the nominees. My taste is a shifting scale - one moment here, the next there. All the carols mean something, all are worthy. If there's a couple of unfamilair ones, take a listen on Youtube - they are there.
Anyway - a bit of Bert Jansch doing In The Bleak Mid-Winter
* Clearly the person knew me. It sort of paraphrased - whilst eschewing the flowery language - my own short stories. We are the stories we tell, unfortunately.