Following this year’s theme of light, a song with the injunction to bring a torch was a natural fit. Some version of “Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella” likely has been around since the 1300s, not as a Christmas song but as a dance. You can picture the twirling and skipping and footwork in this tune. Then it seems it was first published in France in a collection of Christmas songs in the early 1500s. In the Provence region kids may still dress up and carry lights to Christmas Midnight mass while singing this song. Some have speculated that this song served as a way of physically performing the assemblage of a creche scene. As everyone meets with their torches and candles, they gather around the Christchild, and, in the song, they must be quiet and careful not to wake him.
To be honest, I had a hard time knowing what song to choose for today. Last night as I prepared for bed, I saw more breaking headlines about the crisis in Aleppo, and I remembered four years ago today when we heard the terrifying news about the shooting at Sandy Hook. Then in 2012 it seemed that posting festive Christmas music was perhaps a bit tone deaf during the next few days, and I thought of those same feelings again today. Although the Robert Shaw recording may not evoke this interpretation, I found myself reflecting on the words of the second verse:
It is wrong when the Child is sleeping
It is wrong to speak so loud;
Silence, now as you come to the cradle,
Lest you awaken little Jesus…
And that seemed to get at some of the feelings I was thinking through. Then, as I rummaged for pictures to use, looking for something with torch, I saw one of the Statue of Liberty and thought about how it had been gifted to the United States from France in 1886. Lady Liberty also lights a torch and looks to bless the weak and the poor.