In The Bleak Midwinter – The Christmas Carol With The Dreadful Name

In The Bleak Midwinter is one of my favorite Christmas carols. It’s name may be the reason it isn’t included in many of today’s “happy and jolly” Christmas collections. However this carol has one of the best sentiments regarding Christmas. It always moves me.

In the Bleak Midwinter was written by Christina Georgiana Rossetti. Christina grew up in an artistic home and with representatives from the world of art and literature frequenting her family home. Unfortunately, Christina became ill at the age of sixteen and lived with poor health for much of the rest of her life. She faced the solitude of her sickness with a deep faith which can be seen in her writings. Not willing to let illness stop her literary contributions, Christina published three books of poetry, four devotional collections, and many Christian songs, including In the Bleak Midwinter. 

Ironically, In The Bleak Midwinter was first published as a poem in Scribner’s Notes in 1872. Its title at the time was simply A Christmas Carol. The song was later given its tune by the English composer Gustav Holst. It was first published as the Christmas hymn, or carol, with the title and roughly the same form we sing today, in 1906. If the song had kept Rossetti’s original title, it’s possible that people for the last 100 years or so would be confusing it A Christmas Carol, the famous novella by Charles Dickens.

Frankly, I’m glad the song has the dreadful name.

With great skill, Christina Georgiana Rossetti has written about a hopeless, desolate world, filled with bleakness and despair. Into this world, Jesus, our Immanuel, God With Us, the Incarnate One, the long awaited Messiah, the Light of the World, was born. The Lord Jesus miraculously transformed the world. Surprising so many, He brought and is still bringing warmth and light into the most desperate of situations. He lowered Himself to be born among us. In fact, the glories of Heaven couldn’t hold this Savior of ours back from bursting into our world. Even the humble circumstances of his birth couldn’t dissuade Him from His mission of redemption. Praise the Lord! 

My favorite line of In The Bleak Midwinter, of course, comes in its final verse, Rossetti is forced to deal with her own response and worship of Jesus Christ. It’s a question we must all answer at one point or another in our lives.

What can I give Him, Poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.

If I were a wise man, I would do my part;

Yet what I can I give him;

Give my heart.

Click here to hear In The Bleak Midwinter performed by Keith and Kristyn Getty or Click here for a more liberal performance by Rend Collective

Image courtesy of Annie Spratt

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