Christmas Carols are on, including The Coventry Carol

By Elizabeth Prata

Being home now on Thanksgiving Break all week has put me into the holiday mood. I started listening to Christmas carols this morning. At The Special Store (vintage estate resale store) yesterday I’d seen an Anne Murray CD called Christmas, issued in 2008. It was damaged unfortunately, but the songs on it were all the ones I liked, including The Coventry Carol. I was disappointed it was too damaged to buy but I am glad the song list reminded me of The Coventry Carol.

The Coventry Carol is a dirge, a lament for the dead. Wikipedia explains this medieval song’s origin

The “Coventry Carol” is an English Christmas carol dating from the 16th century. The carol was traditionally performed in Coventry in England as part of a mystery play called The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors. The play depicts the Christmas story from chapter two in the Gospel of Matthew: the carol itself refers to the Massacre of the Innocents, in which Herod ordered all male infants under the age of two in Bethlehem to be killed, and takes the form of a lullaby sung by mothers of the doomed children.

Why, one might ask, would I be excited to have a Christmas CD that included among the joyous songs about the savior’s coming, a dirge about dead children?

Well, as stated above, the song is part of a traditional play that enacts the Gospel of Matthew chapter 2. So it’s biblical. The massacre of the innocents was a terrible display of man’s cravenness and a part of the bloodshed that Christ’s coming initiated and has not yet abated.

Christ’s coming was incredible, joyous, and an opportunity for salvation of mankind in general and salvation effectually for all those who are called. But Christ came to die. His intent and point was death, as the sacrificial lamb. (Matthew 20:28). His coming as the babe often overshadows that fact.

The bloodshed began almost immediately, with Herod slaughtering the innocent children, just so he could retain temporary and pitiful ower in his part of the backwater kingdom of Israel. This caused Jesus’s family to flee their home and live as exiles for many years in Egypt. And the sorrows continued. The Christmas story is wonderful, but it has its parts that are bloody, depraved, and sad. I first wrote about The Coventry Carol in 2016, here in the essay The Saddest Christmas Carol Ever, which explains more.

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
Bye bye, lully, lullay.
Thou little tiny child,
Bye bye, lully, lullay.
O sisters too, how may we do
For to preserve this day
This pore yongling for whom we do singe
By by, lully, lullay?
O sisters too, how may we do
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we sing,
“Bye bye, lully, lullay”?
Herod, the king, in his raging,
Chargid he hath this day
His men of might in his owne sight
All yonge children to slay,—
Herod the king, in his raging,
Chargèd he hath this day
His men of might in his own sight
All young children to slay.
That wo is me, pore child, for thee,
And ever morne and may
For thi parting nether say nor singe,
By by, lully, lullay.
That woe is me, poor child, for thee
And ever mourn and may
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
“Bye bye, lully, lullay.”

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