My least favorite Christmas song is “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” My dislike of the song is fairly arbitrary, but it’s pretty much the melody that I don’t care for. I’m certain there are many more annoying Christmas songs than this one (and I realize that my favorite Christmas song is likely on numerous “least favorite Christmas song” lists). Nevertheless, as of today, I have successfully avoided having to sing this song in church this Christmas season.
Worship Pastor is generally kind to honor my dislike of this song by not using it in our services (I apologize to those whose vocal chords pine to sing the song at my church), so I wasn’t too concerned about encountering the song for the first few weeks of December. But upon returning home this weekend, I wasn’t so sure.
It was actually quite a close call, considering I attended three church services this weekend. I went to the candlelight Christmas Eve service with my parents at their church and was all clear. Later that evening, I attended another candlelight Christmas Eve service at an Episcopal church (to get my high-ish church fix and to hear the fabulous choir and organist). Imagine my dismay upon seeing this as I perused the program:
But just when I thought I would have to capitulate and sing that chromatic melody (if you’ve memorized The Hymnal 1982, you already know what’s coming), Hymn 109 in The Hymnal 1982 is actually “The First Noel.” It was a misprint! While the editor in me was tsk-tsk-ing away, I was, of course, relieved.
However, I believed this printing oversight was just delaying the inevitable. As communion commenced, I turned to Hymn 78 to see it was indeed “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” but the organist’s introduction didn’t sound familiar! The tune was not “St. Louis (Redner),” but instead “Forest Green!” Hymn 79 in The Hymnal 1982 is the melody that is most commonly associated with the song, while Hymn 78 is a lovely little English melody that was adapted and harmonized by Ralph Vaughn Williams.
My dislike of the song isn’t strong enough to say that these turns of print and melody were a Christmas Eve Miracle, but I must say, it was a pleasant little surprise. Consequently, I was quite confident the song would not show up this morning… and it didn’t.
The text of this carol is quite lovely and since I’m typing this at the end of Christmas day, it’s quite appropriate to quote verse two here:
For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love
O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And peace to men on earth
Merry Christmas, y’all!