Twelve Days of Christmas Music–I

It has been a while since I wrote about my favorite Christmas music, and there may be unsuspecting readers who have not yet been thoroughly subjected to my opinions–a situation which clearly cannot be allowed to persist. So, one piece per day for all twelve days of Christmas.

First is Ralph Vaughan Williams seldom-performed cantata Hodie. It is a gorgeous combination of old Latin texts (as in the opening anthem–“Hodie Christus Natus Est”, idiosyncratic arrangements of texts from the mass (“The Blessed Son of God”, for instance, a lullaby interspersed with the text of the Kyrie), the King James version of Luke sung by a boy choir, and magnificent English poetry, including chunks of Milton’s ode, “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity”, a delicious march of the three kings by Vaughan Williams’ wife, Ursula, and Thomas Hardy’s small, perfect, poem, “The Oxen.”

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 comb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

Some blessed soul has put up a good (though not the VERY best one) recording of the whole piece on youtube. Enjoy!

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI


  1. StillConfused says:

    When exactly are the 12 days of Christmas? I always thought it was the twelve days leading up to Christmas

  2. Nope. Starts on Christmas Day, goes until Epiphany (January 6th).

  3. Thanks, Kristine. I like your style. Can’t wait to see the next installment.

  4. This is fun! My Decembers are spent filled with The Cambridge Singers, but I’m looking to branch out.

    I missed the T&S version back in 2004. Did you write a part 2?

  5. Yes, I’m afraid I did write a part 2: and a part 3:

    I’m moderately horrified that I described the Hardy poem with EXACTLY the same words. Probably that means I plagiarized them from someone else before I started quoting myself. Sheesh.

  6. Neal Kramer says:

    The twelve days of Christmas occur between December 25 and January 6, the feast of Epiphany. In the Christian tradition, the wise men visited the Holy Family in Jerusalem 12 days after the Savior’s birth. Each day of the celebration is accompanied by gift-giving in order to remember the gifts given by the wise men to the baby on that day. Hence, the 12 days of Christmas.

  7. I hope there is a partridge and a pear tree somewhere in this series.

  8. Oh, the weather outside is frightful! And while we’re on the subject of Christmas music….

    I am not a huge fan of popular Christmas music. I love the traditional stuff – Schubert’s Ave Maria, for example, I think is the most beautiful piece of music ever composed. But there are a few exceptions: Bing Crosby’s White Christmas and Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song are undeniable classics. Bob Dylan’s new LP is called Christmas in the Heart. The man can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned. It’s a wonderful record. He even does a good job with Winter Wonderland – a tune I have always loathed with a passion I can’t even describe. Good for you, Uncle Bobby!

    But for the most part, popular Christmas music has been known to make me sick to my stomach. One tune in particular is enough to drive me to extreme violence. Dick Wells is a legendary disc jockey and singer. Back in the fifties and sixties he was the vocalist for the Harry James Orchestra. He is also a good friend and an expert on the subject of popular songs. I once had a telephone conversation with him that went like this.

    DEGAN: Dick, who wrote, Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow?

    DICK: Tom, Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow was written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne

    DEGAN: Are Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne still alive, Dick?

    Dick: No, Tom. Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne are both dead.

    DEGAN: Good.

    Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer is another “Christmas song” I wish had never been written. I find it amazing and ironic that the root of Gene Autry’s extraordinary fortune is based on the fact that he penned this hideously dreadful piece of holiday trash. Gene Autry is also dead. No comment. It’s Christmas. Joy to the world.

    Tom Degan
    Goshen, NY