In a poll of 51 choral experts and directors in the world, today’s Carol of Comfort & Joy, “In the Bleak Midwinter” was voted the best Christmas Carol. Can you figure out why? Give it a listen, sung by the Willows Academy choir.
Experts looked at lyrics, harmonies, musical composition, and more to decide what the winning carols would be, and this one that may be new to most of us, was decidedly the top of what Christmas carols offered.
The lyrics come from a poem by Christina Rossetti, published for the first time in January 1872. Rossetti contrasted the Incarnation’s humility and simple, pastoral setting with the glorious details of the Second Coming of Christ verse by verse. The amazing, world-changing event of Christ coming to us as a baby is set in bleak, cold, and rough land that is covered with thick and unyielding snow; harsh conditions for a baby at all, especially for the coming of the King of Kings!
Then Rossetti looks up to the angels adoring the scene, worshiping Our Lord alongside His Mother as He is held, fed, and laid to sleep. He is given praise from the angels and a kiss from his mother – so “what can I give him, poor as I am?” asks Rossetti. She names that which everyone present, stable boys and shepherds, could bring the Child Jesus, and then concludes to give Him “what I can… give my heart.”
This beautiful poem received a musical setting from composer Gustav Holst in 1906, but the most popular setting – the one we sing today – came three years later by Harold Darke. It reminds us that even if we don’t have sheep, gold, or gifts to give the Infant Jesus this Christmas, we can still give what we do have: our voices and our hearts.
Listen to the Willows Academy choir sing “In the Bleak Midwinter”: