In addition to being the 10th of December and the 12th day of Advent, today is my sister-in-law Tanya’s birthday! Happy birthday Tan! Tanya is extremely fond of Australian birds, and so there was only one possible Christmas Carol to post today, even if it’s a little early in the season for it, and that is the Carol of the Birds.
I have a great fondness for the carols William James wrote to lyrics by John Wheeler. As an Australian, all the winter solstice symbolism embedded in both church and secular Christmas traditions is kind of out of place. (Our minister last year replaced the advent candles with vases into which he poured water, which makes a much better metaphor in our climate – flames in our summer are decidedly unwanted. Water in the desert is another matter.) And I get a bit cranky after the fifth time I hear ‘Frosty the Snowman’ played in the supermarket when it’s 35°C outside. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good rendition of In the Bleak Midwinter as much as the next woman, but there are many, many snow-based carols that I could gladly live without. (Sometimes, it’s hard not to feel like the whole Northern hemisphere is mocking us…)
So carols with Australian bush birds, and drovers on dry Australian plains watching black swans fly overhead, or red dust and leaves being blown by hot northerly winds, or even stars shining in dark desert skies with brown moths fluttering in the light, feel very refreshing to me. Which, since I am an urban girl, is probably as inappropriate as carols about snow, but these carols do feel more like home. The underlying awareness of heat and dryness feels right. And, of course, most of us sing these carols at some point in primary school, so there is a definite nostalgia aspect to this (though if you’ve ever heard a bunch of ten year olds reaching for that ‘orana’… well, let’s just say that it’s a pretty good imitation of what a sulfur-crested cockatoo sounds like, and leave it at that.)
I recently found out that William James, who wrote this carol and several other Australian favourites, was also the church organist and Music Director at the church I do most of my singing at. So that’s a nice connection, too.