Monday, 19 December 2011

Weird Carols

I love Christmas.  Christmas is brilliant.  I love British Christmas particularly, just because it's what I've grown up with; I love the juxtaposition of darkness and light as the days grow shorter, the biting cold that forces us indoors and into each other's company, and I love the rousing choruses of the old carols.  I'm not so keen on some of the newer songs, the commercial hits that get pumped out every year on the radio; I tend to prefer the old stuff, the more traditional tunes and poems...  Even though some of them are just downright weird.  Like 'I Saw Three Ships'.  As a friend quite rightly pointed out to me the other day "Why are Jesus and Mary on a boat?"  Good question.  And where's Joseph?  Is he on boat too?  If not, who's on the third ship?  Do Jesus and Mary have a ship each or are they sharing?  Because if they have one each isn't it really irresponsible to let a baby steer a ship on it's own?

My current favourite piece of Weird Christmas verse is from 1595, Elizabethan times, and was written by a man named Robert Southwell.  He was a Catholic, at a time when Protestantism had only recently become accepted and being a Catholic priest in England was no longer a very popular thing.  Recently ordained priests were banished from the country in 1584, only two years after he attained his priesthood but he volunteered to come back illegally and perform ceremonies and rites to the Catholic families still living in England.  He also wrote and published tracts and other writings, including this verse, The Burning Babe.  Basically it's a made-up story about a man walking in the snowy woods when he comes across a pretty disturbing vision - the baby Jesus, on fire, hovering in mid-air, in the middle of a deserted forest.  Of course.  On-fire-baby-Jesus explains why he's there, and what the fact that he's on fire symbolises, and then vanishes.  Only then does our poet realise that this all makes perfect sense because it is, in fact, Christmas day.  And then the poem ends.

It's all very bizarre but I had to draw it.  Mainly because the image of an levitating flaming baby does tend to stick in your mind quite a lot!

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