One of the more fun things about Advent Carols are the ones you get that were written by the people, for the people. And the people sometimes had some pretty unorthodox ideas, largely, one suspects, because services were in Latin, Bibles were for the clergy, and singing was not permitted in church. This left quite a lot of room for people to make things up with the best of intentions. And people were pretty interested in St Joseph, because in some ways, he’s the most relatable character in the Christmas story. I mean, Jesus is divine, Mary is a walking miracle, and then you have Joseph, just an ordinary bloke (indeed, a regular Joe), whose betrothed has just turned up pregnant and is claiming that the baby is the son of God.
You can see why he wouldn’t be too thrilled about this. The people writing carols could see it too, and there are a whole swathe of carols about Joseph being quite grumpy about the whole business. (Incidentally, I’m told that Joseph didn’t get many churches in his honour, especially in Italy, largely because of a feeling that he was a cuckold. Apparently, being cuckolded by God isn’t much better than the regular kind of cuckoldry, at least if you are Italian.) Here’s one of them.
The version I’ve given you is a modern setting, but one which takes the version found in Child’s Ballads as its starting point – this carol is very much a folk song, as evidenced by versions sung by Peter Paul and Mary, and Mary Hopkins. There are, however, a heap of different versions, with varying lyrics, many of which include the infant in the womb prophesying his entire career, all the way to Easter Sunday (the version I’ve sung, which I can’t find a recording of anywhere, used those lyrics, though we didn’t sing all of them).
Of course, the real reason I’ve posted this carol today is that it is Wednesday, which, for my colleagues and me, is the day when one of our semi-retired scientists brings in cherries to sell at this time of year. Some themes demand to be followed…