We decorated our Christmas tree while drinking hot cider and cocoa.  For some reason, we couldn’t find the lights, so we have an unlighted tree. They turned up later, so I may just put them on over the ornaments, though we know that this is Wrong.

We talked and took naps and later we went out to see the lights.

Not many houses had lights up, actually; it’s very early for this expedition. But the downtown lights were up and there was a festival air about it.

It used to be that all the trees and buildings were decked with little white lights, as you can see in the first picture below. It was an elegant look. Now, there are bright colored lights and camels and pony rides, and I am not making this up. It isn’t an elegant fairyland any more, but we still enjoyed it.

It was 62 degrees, so it didn’t require personal sacrifice the way it used to, either. Used to be you’d be completely frozen by the time you got back to your car, but we just had a pleasant stroll around the square.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, so I will begin  this year’s virtual, musical Advent calendar with a lovely song which we’ll be singing this morning in church: “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.” Get sheet music here. You can get a really pretty pdf song sheet if you have the tune memorized. That sheet will print two to a page, so you can print just a couple sheets and pass them out to your quartet. Here are the guitar chords.

I’m assuming that you have a quartet because this song, while it has a pretty tune, is not nearly as good without the parts. This is because the traditional parts were created by the great Michael Praetorius. You should therefore strive to find enough singers for all the parts before singing it.

You can easily listen to it, even if you can’t get together a quartet. All kinds of people have recorded it, from Chanticleer to Sting, Mahalia Jackson to Charlotte Church, Sufjan Stevens to Linda Ronstadt.

The words of this song are a bit mysterious.

It’s a Renaissance German carol, and has the usual images of Jesus being born in the middle of a cold winter’s night.

“Lo, how a rose e’er blooming from tender root has sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming, as men of old have sung.
It came a floweret bright
Amid the cold of winter, when half spent was the night.”

There’s no particular reason to think that the historical Jesus was born at night or in winter, but we have been thinking of it that way for centuries, so we might as well go with it. There is certainly no reason to think it was cold, what with the shepherds being out on the hillside tending their flocks and all, but at least this song doesn’t involve snow.

It has been suggested that “rose”  (“ros) in German)is a corruption of “reis,” or “sprig.”  This would fit better with the line from Isaiah that inspired the song.

In the early 1900s, a couple of extra stanzas were added to this song:

“This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True Man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.
O Savior, Child of Mary, Who felt our human woe,
O Savior, King of glory, Who dost our weakness know;
Bring us at length we pray, to the bright courts of heaven,
And to the endless day!”

These verses take the dead of winter middle of the night bit and interpret it as a symbolic darkness from which Jesus brings us to light. Whether this is worth having to sing “and lightens every load” I don’t know, but I think a tune this gorgeous should have as many verses as possible, so I say sing all five verses.

Advent, in case you were wondering, is the time for preparing our hearts for Christmas. We put a lot of time and effort into preparing our homes for Christmas and buying presents and stuff, but too many of us greet Christmas feeling stressed and miserable. You can easily find people who think of the holiday as something to be lived through.

These people are doing it wrong.

Advent is, for Christians, a time to live simply in preparation for the feast of Christmas, a time to give more than we usually do, a time to contemplate the Trinity. Whether you’re a Christian or not, Advent is an excellent time to get rid of the things that interfere with your enjoyment of Christmas. Make peace with your family. Reduce your dependence on material things for happiness and a sense of self-worth. Take up a good habit or give up a bad one — it takes 21 days, which is just about right.

I have to catch up on some work today, but I probably won’t do so until after #2 son takes off this afternoon.

It has been so nice to have the kids home. Every time we can have the whole family together feels very special, since it’s so rare.