Thursday, December 4, 2008

December Songs and Stories, Part Five

It's St. Nicholas' Eve! In several Northern European countries, this is the night that children await a mysterious giver of presents. The story for today, then, is the chapter "The Festival of St. Nicholas" from the classic Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge. It has the flowery language and moral didacticism of the Victorian children's book, but I think it could still be enjoyed by older children with a parent to read and explain. It's available in numerous formats including Kindle, and also, since it's in the public domain, on Google Books here (the chapter begins on page 71).

Because of the Dutch setting of the story, I wanted to find a Dutch Christmas carol to go with it; this proved surprisingly difficult, at least a couple of years ago. I might have a slightly wider choice now. I did find this song, King Jesus Hath a Garden, sung by the choir of Clare College, Cambridge. It has a cheerful, bouncy chorus:
There naught is heard but Paradise bird,
Harp, dulcimer, lute,
With cymbal, trump and tymbal,
And the soothing flute.

The English translation is by Percy Dearmer, who turns out to have been quite an interesting person (or parson, since he wrote The Parson's Handbook). He was an early advocate of the ordination of women, and worked with Ralph Vaughan Williams on the classic hymnals The English Hymnal, Songs of Praise, and The Oxford Book of Carols. From his two marriages he had three sons, one of whom was killed in World War I and one in World War II, and the third, Geoffrey, died at age 103, a poet and also a World War I veteran.

No comments: