@OurCofE asked us for our favourite carols, and now the results are in!

With huge thanks to the fabulous Paula Gooder, who was tweeting as @OurCofE this week, for instigating this entirely unofficial vote, and for compiling the results for us, here is the final ranking – a few predictable choices, but some lovely surprise inclusions too.

The voting rules were simple: there were no rules! People could nominate as many carols as they liked, favourited tweets were counted too, and Paula even allowed quite a bit of leeway when it came to defining what could count as a carol. Advent hymns are in, and only ‘Santa Claus is coming to town’ failed to meet the not-very-strict criteria! Enjoy…

1. In the top spot was the wonderful In the bleak midwinter, with a whopping 27 nominations. The words are by Christina Rosetti, and this is a Christmas that those of us who live in her native England will recognise: the snow may be unbiblical, but it helps those of us who dream of a white Christmas to become part of the Christmas story, to feel that it is also our story. The survey didn’t specify a particular tune, so although congregations find it easier to sing the tune by Gustav Holst, choral singers will always vote for the setting by Harold Darke.

2. The second spot fell to Of the Father’s love begotten, with 23 votes (if you’re not familiar with this one, you can hear it as sung on Songs of Praise in 1997!). The words are by the great fifth century Roman poet Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, and were translated into English by J M Neale in the 19th Century. If hymns were wine and readings were food, this is a good wine that would be recommended with a main course of John 1.1-14.

3. At number 3 was It Came upon the Midnight Clear, with 19 votes. It was written in 1849 by a Unitarian pastor from Massachussetts, Edmund Sears. Many who nominated this carol did so for the hope it brings of an ever-present angelic song in the midst of human sin and conflict.

=4. Hark! The herald angels sing was always going to make the top ten. With harmonies by Mendelssohn, and words by Charles Wesley, what’s not to like? Surprisingly, though, our number four carols only received 11 nominations.

=4. In equal fourth place was O Holy Night. Much recorded, variously arranged, well sung it delivers a well-aimed shiver down all but the hardiest of spines.

The best of the rest… here’s the full list:

With 9 nominations:
Silent Night – always popular, but this year with special significance during the WW1 centenery.

With 8 nominations:
O Come all ye faithful – many people mentioned the glorious last verse that we can only sing on Christmas day!
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

With 6 nominations:
Joy to the World
The Angel Gabriel
O Little Town of Bethlehem

With 5 nominations:
Jesus Christ the Apple Tree (we’re assuming it’s the Elizabeth Poston version)

With 4 nomination:
Bethlehem Down (with fabulous music by Peter Warlock)
Coventry Carol

With 3 nominations:
Fairy Tale in New York
God Rest ye merry, Gentlemen
Hills of the North Rejoice
I saw three ships
In Dulci Jubilo
Let all mortal flesh keep silent
Once in Royal David’s City

With 2 nominations:
A spotless Rose
Angels from the realms of glory
Candlelight Carol
Christians awake
The Three Kings (Peter Cornelius)
Whence is this Stupendous Stranger
While Shepherds Watched their Flocks

And finally with just 1 nomination each:
A Great and Mighty Wonder
Away in a Manger

Born in the Night Mary’s Child
Christ Be our Light (Bernadette Farrell)
Glorious Light (Krystyn Getty et al)
Good King Wenceslas
Hee Haw Hee Haw doesn’t anybody care?
Huron Carol
Infant Holy
Lo He comes with Clouds Descending
Make Way for Christmas (Kendrick)
Personent Hodie
Quelle est cette odeur
Ring out the Bells at Christmas time
Shepherds Farewell
Sussex Carol
The First Noel
The Silver Stars
This is the Truth sent from Above
Virgin Mary had a Baby Boy
Wake O Wake with Tidings Thrilling
We Three Kings
What Sweeter Music (Rutter)
When Love Came down to Earth
Come and join the celebration

My take on the list? There are quite a few carols that we sing a lot, that really didn’t get that many nominations (Away in a manger springs to mind), and others that were really well supported but don’t seem to make it into our carol services as often as they deserve (Of the Father’s love begotten). What do you think?  Was your favourite carol missing from the list, or under-appreciated? Tell us in a comment!  And more importantly, tell us why your chosen carol means so much to you, and what it say about the heart of Christmas.

A Christmas poem? In October? Seriously?

I can’t be the only one planning carol services already, can I?  I hate the fact that Christmas creeps in early, but in a fit or organisation (and knowing that I’ll be out of action for some of November having my tonsils taken out) I scheduled the planning meeting for the village carol service for 17th October. All of which meant that I was in a Christmassy mood as I waited at the level crossing, and found myself starting to write a Christmas poem.

I’ve never written a Christmas poem before, so be nice to it, even if it’s pants.
(In case it’s not blindingly obvious, it’s based on the additional collect for Christmas day).

In the visions of prophets since time began,
and long before God’s loving plan
was brought to birth
there has been talk of a glorious moment
when heaven would touch the dark and long-estranged earth.

In a half-made family,
and in a young girl’s womb
those ancient words began to be
in flesh and skin and bone unfurled;
and as the babe was born
so heaven stooped
to touch a fallen world.

Amongst the cows and camels
in a shed behind the inn,
the world’s true light
opened his eyes to a world of sin.
And yet he saw as his first sight
the love of a mother,
and heaven touched earth for each of them
in one another.

On a darkened hilltop
angels came to sing
to fearful shepherds and startled sheep
of a boy-king, the dayspring
from on High.
They came and saw the child,
and in him, all their hopes fulfilled
as the baby slept to a lullaby.
And in the tiny shoot that sprang from Jesse’s stem
heaven touched earth
for them.

A star high in the Persian sky was gleaming
to guide the long, long journey of the sages,
whose gifts were heavy with meaning;
Heaven touched earth in them,
and showed for all the ages
that there was no place or time
where heaven’s light could fail to shine.

And through the endless years of history
heaven has touched the hearts of young and old alike,
of all who long to enter in its mystery;
In suffering and joy we glimpse this hope
that nothing in the cosmos can destroy,
for there is no force in the universe
that can prevent heaven from touching earth.

Tonight we may arrive with burdens,
cares, and fears, and guilt;
And what of all those things for which we strive so hard?
we bring them to the stable yard,
or even lay them at the manger.
So let us join with choirs of unseen angels
and raise our voice
to cry for peace
goodwill to men,
and for God’s heaven to touch his earth again.