Carols and Christmas lights


Photo by Laurel Wilson

We did a drive-by of Warwick’s Christmas lights last Saturday night. It would melt the Grinchiest heart. By that I mean even if you are deeply cynical about the nativity story, Santa, Elf on a Shelf and rampant consumerism, Christmas lights are a joy. Not at all energy-conserving but joyous without a doubt

She Who Took Pictures in the Dark (SWTPITD) came up with a couple of good ones. I drove and the passengers navigated, which was ‘interesting’

We had just finished two weeks of carol performances with East Street Singers. We are having a break from choir until January, so cruising the Christmas lights hotspots was the next best thing.

Lavish displays of Christmas lights cost multiple thousands, not to mention the additional burden on the household energy bill. The comparison website did a survey on Christmas spending which did not mention Christmas lights at all. Nevertheless, those surveyed said they were planning to spend around $1,361 on food, alcohol, presents, eating out and travel.

Two-thirds of Australians (72%), however, are slashing their spending, mindful of the impact of inflation and what the New Year may bring.

About 38% of respondents said they would start buying food and presents early to help control their spending. One quarter went shopping for bargains on Black Friday,(the US version of Boxing Day sales) with 25% implementing a gift-giving limit.

Almost a quarter of the 1,054 survey respondents said they would have to go into debt to cover their Christmas costs (up from 23% in 2021).

Inflation rose 6.9% in the year to October 2022 and there appears to be no signs of it easing. Inflationary pressures, particularly the steep rise in fuel and energy prices, prompted the Reserve Bank of Australia to raise the cash rate by 3.00% in 2022 (it’s now 3.10%). What this might mean for people with huge mortgages in 2023 is anyone’s guess.

Long-term FOMM followers will know I usually trot out a Christmas song playlist and this year is no exception. But I am swayed this year to include songs with a sentimental or even reverent message. This offsets the somewhat cynical tone of my contribution, ‘Christmas in Australia’ which can be found here.

Our five Christmas carol performances this month included a mix of traditional songs, a few which are rarely heard and that jolly old tune about figgy pudding and not going until we get some.

Number one on the 12-song FOMM Christmas playlist is the Sussex Carol with its clever counterpoint section where the men vocalise in a different time signature while the women sing the verse (then vice versa). ‘The Sussex Carol’ is performed by the choir of St Martin’s in the Fields conducted by Sir Neville Marriner.

The Sussex Carol brings to mind the wry observation in Tim Minchin’s timeless ‘White Wine in the Sun’ (number 2).

I get freaked out by churches
Some of the hymns that they sing have nice chords
But the lyrics are dodgy.

Minchin released this song in 2012 as a tribute to his baby daughter. He released this 2022 live version, all the more poignant because his child has been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. Minchin donates proceeds from this song over the Christmas period to Aspect (Autism Spectrum Australia). This is a touching, live rendition, just Tim and piano.

‘Once in Royal David’s City’ (3), is performed in folk style by The Seekers. This is a happy, lapsed-Methodist memory. I was given a harmonica in a Christmas stocking (I was 8) and was playing that carol by lunchtime. Later I found Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.

Next is the much-loved ‘How to Make Gravy’ (4) by Paul Kelly. Note for guitarists: Paul plays a guitar tuned to an open D. In ordinary tuning you need to span three or four frets to make those chords. Just saying.

‘O Holy Night’(5) is a classic Christian carol, favoured by sopranos who can hit the high note (A flat). My trusty editor Laurel Wilson is well capable of executing (ie singing, as opposed to ‘murdering’ Ed.) this song. Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and Kate Miller-Heidke are among those who have recorded Adolphe Adam’s composition, based on a French poem. This version is by the honourable Luciano Pavarotti.

‘The Christians and the Pagans’ (6) takes me back a bit – Dar Williams singing about cousin Amber (and her friend), turning up unexpectedly for a traditional family lunch.

The food was great, the tree plugged in, the meal had gone without a hitch,
Til Timmy turned to Amber and said, “Is it true that you’re a witch?”
His Mom jumped up and said, “The pies are burning, ” and she hit the kitchen,
And it was Jane who spoke, she said, “It’s true, your cousin’s not a Christian, ”
“But we love trees, we love the snow, the friends we have, the world we share,
And you find magic from your God, and we find magic everywhere.

Song 7 was recommended by the convenors of U3A Warwick’s Music Show; indigenous man Mitch Tambo singing ‘Silent Night’ in language. I shared this with my niece in New Zealand who is a big Marlon Williams fan. Mitch’s voice is equally impressive.

‘Carol of the Bells’(8)  is an old Ukrainian folk tune. This version is from the soundtrack of the 1990 hit movie Home Alone.

As we think about Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and other countries which need peaceful thoughts, here is John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s ‘Happy Christmas/War is Over’ (9).

Macca is broadcasting his last Australia all Over for 2022 on Sunday so it’s a fair bet he’ll include ‘Carol of the Birds’. (10).

This delightful Australian song with authentic Down Under imagery is from the album Bucko and Champs (Colin Buchanan and Greg Champion).

I mentioned to my niece’s witty 15-year-old last month that I’d not heard the Mariah Carey Christmas song reportedly played to death at this time of year. He replied, “Oh yes, that’s the song you hear in shopping centres, giving their poor workers PTSD.”

I’m sparing you Mariah’s vocal gymnastics on ‘All I want for Christmas is You’ in favour of a traditional Irish folk song. This recording of the ‘Wexford Carol’ (11) features Alison Krauss, better known for collaborations with bluegrass band Union Station and duets with husband Robert Plant (Raising Sand). Here she is joined by master cellist YoYo Ma and an ensemble of class musicians.

Finally, the ‘Twelve Days Of Christmas’, an annoyingly repetitive song which in 1984 gave birth to a quirky set of economic indicators. The Christmas Price Index and the True Cost of Christmas measure the nominal and cumulative values of the gifts given by the True Love. In 2021, the commodity price index assessed the nominal value at $41,205 and the cumulative value at $179,454. An example is the four calling birds (they use canaries), which are mentioned nine times. Canaries go for around $300 in the US so the cumulative value of the gift from Ms True Love is $10,700. You follow?

Not that this would have occurred to Bing Crosby when he recorded the song with the Andrews Sisters in 1949. Bing’s been dead for 45 years but regardless has 25 million Spotify followers. Now that’s what I’d call a commodity.

Have a great Christmas and drive carefully.

One Comment

  1. A good carols selection, including some of my faves. I do think the original French version of O Holy Night – “Minuit Chrétien” – is better than the English, much more dramatic.
    Wexford carol, yes !! but imho Nancy Griffith’s version ( accompanied by The Chieftains, I think ) does beat Alison Krauss’.
    Carol of the Birds – such a beauty, but an even better trad Aussie one is the Drover’s Carol. What I like about these is that they eschew snow and sleighs and pine trees, and place Christmas in our own bush.
    And, may I suggest, Coventry carol, for sheer drama, is very hard to beat. But so many plummy, soulless versions. LOrenna McKennit does it well. But this American version is better –

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