A Christmas Carol

Nope, no ghosts this time (that I know of, although I did watch Scrooged this evening.) No, I’ve been spending some time with an old friend – my well-worn copy of The Oxford Book of Carols.


The Oxford Book of Carols was originally published in 1924, and edited by Percey Dearmer, Martin Shaw, and Ralph Vaughn Williams. It was supposed to be the definitive collection of Christmas Carols. It’s still widely available, as is the New Oxford Book of Carols.

As a young choir director I would check a copy of the book out of the library each year as a reference, and to give me ideas for upcoming Christmas programming. One Christmas my mother-in-law gave me my own copy. Understand that this was in pre-Internet days. You couldn’t just log onto Amazon.com and find a copy. Her neighbor was a retired reference librarian, and was able to track down a copy for me.

So, quick – name your favorite Christmas Carols. You would probably come up with something like this…

Joy to the World
O Come All Ye Faithful
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Silent Night
Angels We Have Heard on High
Away in a Manger

You might be surprised to find that none of those beloved carols are in there. Some of those titles don’t even fit the narrow definition of “Carol” applied to the songs that are in the collection. To be a supposedly definitive work, there is much that is lacking, as well as some surprising inclusions. Continue reading “A Christmas Carol”