One of the reasons, and indeed the original impetus, for my annual musical Advent calendar is the way people say they dislike Christmas music. I always want to argue with them. “You don’t dislike Christmas music,” I want to say to them. “You just dislike hearing ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire’ eleventy-seven times a day for three months.”
I always feel sure that their minds will be changed entirely once they hear (or even think about) things like “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” a really gorgeous Advent hymn which you may hear once a year if you’re lucky. Oh, and if you attend a church where Advent carols are sung, or listen to NPR. If not, you may never hear it, and your life would be poorer for that.
The tune is from the great Michael Praetorius. Here is Renee Fleming and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing it in the traditional Big Music fashion. I also like it in a capella groups. Here is an odd recording of it by Sufjan Stevens, in case you wanted something really different. I am not sure where Stevens was trying to go with this, but it is interesting and modern-sounding. Here is a discussion of the lyric, exploring its theological and factual “uncertainties.” It was translated from the German by Thomas Baker.
Here is the sheet music, with midi, so you can sing it yourself. Or play it on your violin. That would be nice.
I’ve been asked for a list of good Christmas mysteries. Here is the list:
Envious Casca, by Georgette Heyer. A tour de force.
Off With His Head, by Ngaio Marsh. Another classic, with a background of British folklore.
The Twelve Deaths of Christmas, by Marian Babson. Creepy but fun. A psychological suspense novel rather than a detective story.
Grave Apparel, by Ellen Byerrum. Just fun. Christmas sweaters are a pivotal point in this book.
Wreck the Halls, by Sarah Graves. A basic amateur detective story, with interesting characters and some knitting.
Visions of Sugar Plums, by Janet Evanovich. Funny and hard-boiled, with a dose of the supernatural.
‘Tis the Season to Be Murdered, Deck the Halls With Murder, and We Wish You a Merry Murder, by Valerie Wolzien. A typical mystery series, but with lots of holiday detail. Sort of what you might get if Martha Stewart were catering a murder. These always put me in the mood to decorate.
A Holly, Jolly Murder, by Joan Hess. A madcap romp. No, really.
Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett. It may be a stretch to call this a mystery, but it begins with someone’s taking out a contract on Santa Claus, and is full of suspense.
This may have to be Part I of the list. I hate really long lists, don’t you?
They remind me of my to-do list. I had better get to it.
Oh! I have just remembered that it is the feast of St. Nicholas! Here is the creepy song about him. You can hear a sample by clicking at the bottom of the page. This page has an English translation. It fits perfectly with the Christmas mystery list, being perhaps the only Christmas carol to feature the murder and salting-down of children.