Close readers of Skopelos Arts know that our temporary lodgings are near a New England village “green” and its big, old church. The church is known as “First Parish”. Each Christmas Eve there is a service (actually three services to accommodate parishioners) which consists of a message of peace and social responsibility intertwingled with songs. The end of the “service” or “event” the community stands to sing, “It came Upon the Midnight Clear” – so far so good. The song proceeds normally until the end when the crowd turns and sings the last verse facing the back of the church. Go figure.
The lyrics to the carol were written in 1849 by Edmund Sears, a pastor of this very church. The lyrics have nothing to do with a miracle birth nor with any specific event historical or otherwise in the Middle East. Some suggest that Sears wrote the lyrics in response to the news that the American war with Spanish Mexico had ended. I don’t know.
At that time the new country was dealing with some very difficult issues including the forceable relocation of native peoples and the institution of human slavery. The Boston area was a center for the anti-slavery/abolishionist movement. and except for the references to “heaven’s all-gracious King” and “angels bending near the earth, the song seems to be Reverend Sears’s plea for peace, human understanding and justice rather than a “Christmas carol”.
So, after the final lines are sung,
-“When peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song, which now the angels sing”-
the congregation exchange Christmas wishes and goes home.