Sunday, December 26, 2010

An Anglican carol, childhood memories and a Christmas eve column in The Irish Times


A piece that reminds me of singing "Dixie" on the schoolbus going to away basketball games when I was growing up ... also of singing some of the same Anglo-Irish carols and hymns she mentions, and listening to the Cambridge festival of lessons and carols on LP records ... and of the complicated attitudes we develop as we realize things that had/still have real value to us were part of an oppressive cultural milieu ... by way of an opinion piece in The Irish Times at ...

Really complicated. Excerpts below:
OPINION: Culturally specific Christmas memories can take a long time to appreciate fully, writes VICTORIA WHITE

Once in Royal David’s city

Stood a lowly cattle shed.. .

THE CLEAR voice of the boy soprano will soar through St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin this afternoon and on RTÉ Radio 1, sending shivers down the spine of any self-respecting Irish Anglican. The voice of the child raised up against the dark and cold conveys the essence of the Christmas story: the heart-stopping mystery of the birth of a child and the promise of a world in which the weak would be strong because “that Child so dear and gentle/Is our Lord in heaven above”.

As a child, I was sent into the freezing sunroom that had to house the Christmas tree because it was lit with real candles, to sing Once in Royal every Christmas Eve. Back then, I thought every family did exactly the same thing and it took me a long time to work out how culturally specific are my Christmas memories.


Even writing all of this makes me feel like a bit of a freak. I am aware of the hymns’ self-conscious Victoriana, their easy emotion about the little children while real children still starved to death in Ireland. It’s not surprising I’ve spent most of my life playing down my huge legacy of Church of Ireland hymns and traditions. They set me apart from the mainstream and those who integrate best prosper most.

It’s only in recent years I have become aware that I have engaged in a conscious act of suppression. But the emotions are overwhelming. At a carol service the other night Once in Royal had me in tears. “I’m blubbing,” I admitted to the woman beside me. She was as bad, she said: “I just remember hearing this and feeling so safe.”
But it's subtle. And complicated. At least my reaction is complicated, and no doubt specific to a different culture. Needs to be read in its entirety.

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