Music Monday– In the Bleak Midwinter

I love more Christmas carols than there are weeks left before Christmas (*breathes into a paper bag*), so what I share this year is just beginning to scratch the surface of my favorite songs.

This song has a soft place in my heart because it is actually from a poem by Christina Rosetti and was published in 1872. Her brother, Dante, was a well-known Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood artist.

Rosetti titled the poem A Christmas Carol. In 1906, Gustov Holst set it to music using a tune he titled Cranham for The English Hymnal published by the Oxford University Press that year.

The poem opens with the image of a snowy December. It is perhaps easier for us to know than English Victorians that Bethlehem would not have had heaps of snow laying around. Today, most Biblical scholars agree that Jesus Christ was not born in December, but sometime in the spring. However, looking at it from a poetic angle, I think the imagery works. Creation and humankind groaned for a Savior. Throughout Biblical history, we learn of human hearts being stony and ice cold. For that matter, mid-winter is not December in any case. In the Northern Hemisphere, Christmas falls just a few days after the Winter solstice. But human history was in a mid-winter.

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:25 KJV

Below is my new favorite version of the song. It includes a brief chorus written by the performers as well.

After you listen to the song, scroll down to read a short story that I wrote based on it. This story can also be read in the Once Upon a December collection of Christmas short stories.

In the Bleak Midwinter

“Were they cold, Fitzwilliam?”

Darcy’s younger sister’s usual question interrupted his memories. Their father began telling the story of Christmas this way when Darcy was a child. It had become a tradition, Darcy continuing when his father died, and it was only two years ago that he corrected his sister’s assumption. Jesus was not born in December, but such things were difficult to explain to children. Generations of Darcy children were quite aware of how cold winters could be, as they always spent it at their estate in Derbyshire. Last Christmas Georgiana had asked to skip the story. Looking back, Darcy realized he should have realized that was the moment she decided to cast aside her childhood. The decision culminated in what she perceived was a very grown up decision to elope with a man whom she thought she loved. To hear her request the story this year soothed Darcy’s guilty heart. The holiday was always difficult for him, as he had even grimmer memories than Georgiana.

He pulled her a little closer to his side as they—just the two of them, always just the two of them—sat in the expansive drawing room.

“It was a bleak midwinter. The frosty wind blew hard; the ponds were all frozen over, and there was so much snow. Snow on snow; snow on snow.”

He understood now. His father had explained it this way as a metaphor for the condition of the world as a whole before the Savior’s birth.

“But Heaven could not hold God’s love, and so he sent his Son; a king born in a humble manger.”

“A king? Everyone at the palace must have been very happy.” Georgiana repeated the words that he first said on impulse and then repeated with each passing year until, in time he taught to her.

He shook his head. “Angels and archangels—all the cherubims and seraphims of Heaven—gathered near but only His mother bestowed a kiss.”

He held back the tears threatening to escape as he recalled the many times his mother held a small baby in her arms. And as if in perfect reflection of the Savior being born just to die, his mother had to give her life for the one sibling that would survive.

“What can I give Him? I have nothing to offer a king.”

They both smiled as they reached their favorite part of the story.

“If you were a shepherd what would you bring?”

“A lamb.”

“And if you were a wise man?”

“I would do my part.”

“Those are precious gifts to give. Well, dearest girl, what can you give Him?”

“I can give my heart.”

Darcy looked over as Georgiana quietly cried. Handing her his handkerchief, he kissed her temple.

“Next time, when you give your heart away the man will know how precious it is.”

She laid her head on his shoulder, and he sighed. In time she recovered, and the siblings continued through the motions of a holiday that brought more grief than cheer.

Two weeks later, Darcy and his sister had arrived in London. Darcy was to call at a friend’s and invite him to dinner the following evening. Of course, any invitation to Bingley had to include the rest of his family. Still, Mrs. Annesley said it was good practice for Georgiana. Heaven knew few people in the ton were pleasant, so his sister may as well learn to entertain them.

The butler led him down the hall to the drawing room and was about to announce him when Miss Bingley loudly exclaimed, “What do you mean you see no concern in Jane Bennet being in Town? You heard her! She has come all this way to try and ensnare Charles!”

The butler cleared his throat. “Mr. Darcy to see Mr. Bingley.”

Both ladies straightened. “Oh yes, do be seated, Mr. Darcy. Charles, I regret, is out at the moment.”

Darcy kept his call brief but when the ladies separated at the subsequent dinner, he examined his friend’s morose demeanor.

“You do not look well,” he said, startling Bingley.

“I am well…only…forlorn, I suppose.”

“Because of your disappointment?”

“Yes.”

“I am certain my opinion means little, but I am unsure it is a great loss. She was handsome but spoke so little and smiled too much.”

“Yes, and I know your views on their connections and lack of wealth.”

“You are incorrect. I only cautioned you on those subjects. If she gave you her heart, and you gave her yours, it would be quite sufficient.”

Perhaps it was the effects of the season on him, undoubtedly he was more melancholy this year than usual, but Darcy had a moment of clarity.

“Bingley…I must tell you…I overheard your sisters speaking yesterday. Miss Bennet is in Town. I believe she even called on them.”

Bingley’s eyes widened. “And what are you thinking?”

“I think that is not the action of an indifferent lady.”

“Do you think she could love me?”

Darcy paused for a long moment and considered all he knew of Jane Bennet. To declare his opinions again would be selfish when Bingley felt such attachment. He could at least offer the gift of hope. “I still wonder how easily her heart can be touched but if she truly cares for you and not your wealth, then you have gained a very great gift indeed.”

“Thank you for telling me, my friend. I will endeavor to earn her heart, I know I already gave her mine.”

Darcy managed a small smile and although the wind howled outside, and they faced months of a bleak London winter, a warm ember of hope emerged. Perhaps Christmastide need not be a time for mourning and solitude, but in Goodwill toward his loved ones and fellow creatures. He did not wish to gain a reputation as having the propensity to hate everyone. His smile grew as he considered those words and many others—along with the looks and charm—of Elizabeth Bennet.

A little over ten weeks later Darcy read a very blotted note from his friend as he prepared to leave to visit his aunt’s estate in Kent. He was able to recognize the words “marriage,” “angel,” and “Longbourn.” He truly was happy to learn of Bingley’s engagement. Bingley’s courtship with Miss Bennet had proven to Darcy—who frequently accompanied his friend to Jane’s aunt’s and uncle’s house—they were well-matched and their sentiments equal.

More than realizing his friend’s affections were returned; he realized how officious and selfish his interference would have been. As he began to give more with his heart, rather than be ruled by his fearful mind, the winter in his life thawed. Even Georgiana noticed, and her spirits improved.

Darcy considered how much he wished to join his friend’s ranks of marrying with only the gift of hearts. He would begin again—with the one that held his heart—at his friend’s wedding. He knew not when that would be, but resolved to be patient and hope.

A week later he laughed outright when his aunt announced a Miss Elizabeth Bennet, the particular friend of Mr. Collins’ wife— the former Miss Lucas from Hertfordshire— stayed at the parsonage a mile from her house. Spring had arrived in Kent, and now in Fitzwilliam Darcy’s heart as well. The winters to come in Derbyshire would always prove cold and snowy, but no longer bleak.

Buy Link for Once Upon a December

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