Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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THE CHRISTIAN FEAST
" Hush, my dear, lie still and slumber, Holy angels guard thy bed ! Heavenly blessings without number Gently falling on thy head.
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Soft and easy is thy cradle ;
Coarse and hard thy Saviour lay. When His birthplace was a stable,
And His softest bed was hay.
Lo He slumbers in His manger
Where the horned oxen fed ; —Peace, my darling, here's no danger ;
Here's no ox a-near thy bed." *s
It is to the eighteenth century that the three most popular of English Christmas hymns belong. Nahum Tate's " While shepherds watched their flocks by night"—one of the very few hymns (apart from metrical psalms) in common use in the Anglican Church before the nineteenth century—is a bald and apparently artless paraphrase of St. Luke which, by some accident, has attained dignity, and is aided greatly by the simple and noble tune now attached to it. Charles Wesley's " Hark, the herald angels sing," or—as it should be—" Hark, how all the welkin rings," is much admired by some, but to the present writer seems a mere piece of theological rhetoric. Byrom's " Christians, awake, salute the happy morn," has the stiffness and formality of its period, but it is not without a certain quaintness and dignity. One could hardly expect fine Christmas poetry of an age whose religion was on the one hand staid, rational, unimaginative, and on the other " Evangelical" in the narrow sense, finding its centre in the Atonement rather than the Incarnation.
The revived mediaevalism, religious and aesthetic, of the nine­teenth century, produced a number of Christmas carols. Some, like Swinburne's "Three damsels in the queen's chamber," with
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