Arts Resources for Advent and Christmas
(revised and updated Dec 2016)
Musically, there’s an embarrassment of riches on the “Emmanuel” motif – I like Kim Hill’s version of O Come O Come Emmanuel from her Real Christmas album, and similarly there's another contemporary version by Sixpence None the Richer on their Christmas album The Dawn of Grace. while Emmanuel, God With Us from Amy Grant’s album Home for Christmas is absolutely beautiful. John Michael Talbot’s Prepare Ye the Way from his New Earth album captures the spirit of John the Baptist preaching in the
Some other Advent poems by Irish authors - here
For Christmas itself the amount of material is overwhelming. Poetry-wise you could return to Kavanagh for A Christmas Childhood, with its evocative imagery – 'In silver the wonder of a Christmas townland,/The winking glitter of a frosty dawn'. Eliot’s The Cultivation of Christmas Trees isn’t that well known but is useful for its mature questioning of the commercialism that blights the season, and its concern for the future : 'So that the reverence and the gaiety /May not be forgotten in later experience, /In the bored habituation, the fatigue, the tedium'. Some modern performance poetry has its own wry take on our celebrations: Gerard Kelly’s The Gift (from his Rebel Without Applause collection) ends with this exhortation: 'A God is for life/Not just for Christmas', while in Behold I Stand he has a challenge: 'when the nation has finished celebrating/Christmas without Christ/A birthday/Without a birth …. Behold I Stand'. The crass commercialism is sent up in a lighter way in comedian Stan Freberg’s Green Christmas (on The Very Best of Stan Freberg and other collections), while Randy Stonehill has a painfully sad take on one man’s lonely Christmas in the song Christmas at Dennys from his brilliant Return to Paradise album.
If you really want to challenge some of the more extreme revisions of Christmas do a YouTube search on “politically correct Christmas” and have some fun . For other video material there is usually some Christmas material at the start of any of the film biographies of Jesus, while The Nativity Story from 2006 fleshes out the story from Luke’s gospel into a full feature film.
For Christmas prayer services I like to use Christmas music in a modern acoustic or folk-rock vein. There’s a wealth of beautiful and striking material on any of Amy Grant’s Christmas albums, on John Michael Talbot’s Birth of Jesus, Michael Card’s The Promise and Kim Hill’s Real Christmas. Phil Wickham's album Songs for Christmas is an excellent contemporary album, with fine acoustic versions of Christmas standards and more. Look out as well for Christmas albums by mainstream performers like Peter, Paul and Mary (A Holiday Celebration), Kathy Mattea (Good News and Joy for Christmas Day), The Roches (We Three Kings), The Indigo Girls (Holly Happy Day) , Mary Chapin Carpenter (Come Darkness, Come Light), James Taylor (At Christmas) and many more.
One of the best new resources I picked up was BBC’s Liverpool Nativity – a live musical performance of the Nativity story from the streets of Liverpool – a modernised version of the story with contemporary songs from the Liverpool area. It’s a little rough around the edges but I found it respectful and infectiously joyful. In particular I use the Three Wise Men segment in a classes immediately after Christmas – they visit the crib singing the Beatles’ Lady Madonna! (clip on left). Actually I get a whole week’s work out of the three wise men. Apart from this clip there’s the various portrayals of them in some of the films about Jesus (e.g. a brief scene in Jesus of Nazareth). T.S. Eliot’s Journey of the Magi is the best-known poem about them, though Godfrey Rust (in his collection Breaking the Chains) cheekily continues this poem, imagining the Magi travelling through modern England where people are 'slumped on sofas by four o’ clock/rendered senseless by too much dead poultry'! The Roches have a rather quirky version of the song We Three Kings on their album of the same name, but if you’d prefer a traditional treatment try John Michael Talbot’s haunting version on his Birth of Jesus album (see Christmas Song Playlist below). The Magi have also appealed to artists down through the ages and an internet image search will throw up lots of examples. What I like about the Three Wise Men is that it gives me a chance the deal with themes of journey, searching, finding, idealism, epiphany and gift. And just after 6th Jan, their feast day, it’s a great way to start back in class after Christmas.
Some Advent related poems, published here by kind permission of the author.
Drumming fingers on the table,
© Joe Mc Donald 2014
Your turn, waken up,
© Joe Mc Donald 2014
More poems here
A earlier version of this article originally appeared in the journal An Tobar.