alternative Advent and Christmas readings--compilation
Date: July 30, 2003
Here is a wonderful list of alternative readings for Advent and Christmas,
most of which were in an earlier compilation sent to Choralist (and
helpfully sent to me by David Griggs-Janower--thanks!). I hope this is
inspiring and useful to all who wanted this information.
Look at Carols for Choirs 3 (OUP). There is an appendix of suggested
relevant Advent and Christmas poetry along with the sources in which the
poems can be found.
The first thing that comes to mind is Christina
Rosetti's poem "In The Bleak Midwinter." I first
discovered it in the Holst setting of it, and it's one
of my favorite Christmas songs, but the poem by itself
is very nice, too.
Consecration of the Common Way - Edwin Markham
Kneeling in Bethlehem - Ann Weems
Cultivation of Christmas Trees - T. S Eliot
When Christmas Comes - Joseph Fort Newton
How Far to Bethlehem - Madeleine Sweeney Miller
Special Starlight - Carl Sandburg
Candelight Carol Service - George Herbert
A Manhatten Christmas EVe - Vincent G. Burns
Thank you for your suggested non-scriptural readings for a Lessons and
Carols-type concert. Below is a compilation of the suggested literature.
Many of you misunderstood my request as an attempt to "secularize" the
meaning of Christmas or that I wanted to "strip away" the scriptural
foundation of the meaning of Christmas. This is not the case at all, and
perhap my initial query was misleading. I am planning a Christmas
concert in which I would like to include a variety of different readings
that would illuminate the music. Some of these readings will be
scriptural, but some will not. The concert will probably be advertised
as "Lessons, Readings, and Music of the Christmas Season" or something
like that. As I teach at a university, I think it is important to take
this opportunity to expose my students to a wide variety of quality
poetry and prose by different authors that may be unfamiliar to them.
I don't know about everyone else, but most of the Christmas music that I
have programmed for various concerts for church and school, with the
exception of the Messiah, contains text that is not from the Bible, yet
the content of that text still celebrates (I think) the spirit of the
In any event, the Christmas season is a wonderful but exhausting time
for choral musicians. I appreciate all of your suggestions and wish you
all success (and strength!) with this upcoming season.
Director of Choral Activities
Jacksonville State University
Here is the compilation.:
I highly recommend The Oxford Book of Christmas Poems. It contains
some very traditional and some
decidedly non-traditional poetry, but there is enough variety of styles
and lengths that you
should find something useful.
Dr. Larry Smith
Missouri Baptist University
I did a general web search using "Christmas Stories" and "Christmas
and found many good sources. Of course there are "Yes Virginia" and
Gift of the Magi" and "Twas the Night Before Christmas", but I found
more wonderful items.
We have used poems from "With Every Note I Sing", a collection by David
Haas. It is a successful set to consider.
there is a book in print called "the roads to bethlehem" (i believe that
is the correct wording of
the title) that contains readings of the season. it is edited
(collected) by edna troiano and
pegram johnson but has a limited publishing so i don't know if it is
still even in print. i have used
it numerous times in putting together a concert combining readings and
I have not done such a thing but I have a book of
Christmas poetry, stories, and art that might have a
few things you could use.
Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.
So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel
"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
--Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)
"Meditation on Christmas Eve"
Night has fallen; the clear, bright stars are
sparkling in the cold air; noisy, strident voices rise
to my ear from the city, voices of the revelers of
this world who celebrate with merrymaking the poverty
of their Saviour. Around me in their rooms my
companions are asleepk and I am still wakeful,
thinking of the mystery of Bethlehem.
Come, come Jesus, I await you.
Mary and Joseph, knowing the hour is near, are turned
away by the townsfolk and go out into the fields to
look for a shelter. I am a poor shepherd; I have only
a wretched stable, a small manger, some wisps of
straw. I offer all these to you, be pleased to come
into my poor hovel. I offer you my heart; my soul is
poor and bare of virtues, the straws of so many
imperfections will prick you and make you weep--but
oh, my Lord, what can you expect? This little is all
I have. I am touched by your poverty, I am moved to
tears, but I have nothing better to offer you, Jesus,
honour my soul with your presence, adorn it with your
graces. Burn this straw and change it into a soft
couch for your most holy body.
Jesus, I am here waiting for your coming. Wicked men
have driven you out, and the wind is like ice. I am a
poor man, but I will warm you as well as I can. At
least be pleased that I wish to welcome you warmly, to
love you and sacrifice myself for you.
(These words were written on Christmas Eve, 1902, by a
young Italian named Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli who was
studying for the priesthood in Rome. Two years later
he graduated as a doctor in theology and was ordained.
The world now remembers him as the widely beloved
Pope John XXIII.)
"Journey of the Magi"
"A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter."
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women.
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
that this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley.
Wet, below the sonw line, smelling of vegetation,
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the
And three trees on the low sky.
And and old white horse galloped away int the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth of Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
--T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)
I hope this helps!
Here's what we have used at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra since the
of Robert Shaw, which led us to try to evolve the Christmas concert
maintaining its traditions.
I. English translation of text of Bach's "Jauchzet, frolocket"
which the program opened)
II. Milton: On the Morning of Christ's Nativity
III. [Not used. The program needed shortening.]
IV. George Whitefield Chadwick: Noel (poem printed in the score of
"Noel," one of his ; not attributed, so assumed to
Christina Rossetti: In the Bleak Midwinter (as set by Holst)
V. Goethe: Epiphany (as set by Hugo Wolf)
VI. Philips Brooks: [title:
"Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight"
Berwick Youth Choir did a concert here a few years ago
using Tolstoy's "Papa Panov's Special Day" (I think
that's the title ). The concert itself was a
fundraiser for a children's charity.
Sorry I don't have the texts here for you, but here's the title and
source. I think much of these came from a book entitled "Collection of
Christmas Poetry" or something similar.
"Welcome Yule" Early English Carol
"Singers in the Snow" Early English Carol
"The Little Christmas Tree" Susan Coolidge
"Christmas Folksong" Lizette Woodworth Reese
"Mary Had a Little Lamb" M. Nightengale (Not what you think!)
"Smallest Angel" Elsie Binns
"Hymn on the Morning of Christ's Nativity" John Milton
"Christmas Sonnett" Marie Modesti
"March of the Three Kings" Early Provencal Carol
"A Christmas Carol" George Wither
"Now Have Good Day" Early English Carol
Josh and Nancy Peterson, Directors of Music
Some suggested readings I've used other than scripture:
from "The Cost of Discipleship"- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
"The Dry Salvages" - TS Eliot
"For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio" - WH Auden
"The Handmaid of the Lord" - Peggy Pond Church
"spiralling ecstatically this" - e e cummings
"The New Being" - Paul Tillich
"Journey of the Magi" - TS Eliot
"Letter to a Friend" - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
"Two Lonely People" - Moss Hart
from? - Thomas Merton
(...Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is
no room for Him at all, Christ hqs come uninvited....)
"In a Dark Time" - Theodore Roethke
"from spiralling ecstatically this" - ee cummings