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Songs of the Season: O Little Town of Bethlehem

Funny to think that the “little town of Bethlehem” really exists. Not so funny that far from being a place for peace and joy – all that Xmas stuff – it has regularly been a battleground, a site for the ongoing violence in the Middle East:

The British wrested control of the city from the Ottomans during World War I and it was to be included in an international zone under the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine. Jordan annexed the city in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. It was occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. Since 1995, Bethlehem has been governed by the Palestinian National Authority. (via Wikipedia.)

Bethlehem’s main source of income is tourism – especially during the Christmas season, with Christians from all over the world following in the footsteps of the Three Wise Men. The carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” was written by one of these pilgrims – an Anglican (Episcopal) priest from Philadelphia, after his visit to Bethlehem in 1865.

It’s definitely an old chestnut, but it’s been burnished into various new shiny forms by a range of musicians over the years:

Sarah McLachlan, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” – from Wintersong

Belle and Sebastian, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” – from [Christmas Peel Session, 12-18-02]

Elvis Presley, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”

And of course many of the “usual suspects” for Christmas music have covered it, like

Bing Crosby, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”

The old fashioned versions are usually the ones I prefer – like the Bing Crosby, or one of the many versions by a big choir – but I do like the Sarah McLachlan. In general, a little bit of her – with that plaintive whine – goes a long way, but this is one of the nicer covers on her Christmas album, Wintersong.

Truthfully, though, this carol doesn’t do all that much for me – not listening to it like this. Sung live by a caroling troupe or a choir, at night, with Christmas lights twinkling, or in a church with organ accompaniment – well, that’s another story. And it’s another one of those that most carolers can manage – that I can manage when I am out caroling..

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zerode by nick chapman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Oh - and hello to Jason Isaacs.

The 400 Blows

zerode

is an over-caffeinated and under-employed grad school dropout, aspiring leftwing intellectual and cultural studies academic, cinéaste, and former poet. Raised in San Francisco on classic film, radical politics, burritos and soul music, then set loose upon the world. He spends his time in coffee shops with his laptop and headphones, caffeinating and trying to construct a post-whatever life.

 

What's in a name... The handle "zerode" is a contraction of Zéro de Conduite, the title of Jean Vigo's 1933 movie masterpiece about schoolboy rebellion.

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