Episode 107 – My Favourite Christmas Carol

My erstwhile teacher for conversational German, and now friend, the amazing Hildegard, reminded me today of one of my favourite German Christmas carols: “Süßer die Glocken nie klingen”. Hildegard has a long association with the German school that instructs adults and children working toward international accreditation, whether to attend university abroad, or to work in Germany. In that role, she has developed relationships with all kinds of interesting people – it is courtesy of one of them that she sent me a YouTube version of this carol performed by the Berlin Children’s Choir.

It brought back so many good memories. This year, especially, memories are important.

When I was a child, my parents shared almost no German traditions with my brother or me, beyond some special foods like strudel and savouries like homemade sulze (something only my dad and I enjoyed – don’t ask). They were determined to be unhyphenated “Canadian”. Many of my cousins took German lessons; in our house, German was no longer spoken once I entered Kindergarten, resulting in my younger brother not being able to assemble even the childish vocabulary that I had. My aunts and uncles and their families attended German language churches; my dad helped build Holy Cross Lutheran in Burlington, with a congregation of immigrants who wanted to leave everything “old country” behind them. Services were in English only.

The one exception to keeping things Canadian was around Christmastime, when colourful foil-wrapped chocolate bells and St. Niklaus figures adorned our tree, and marzipan fruits and animals appeared. That said, my mom baked fruitcake, not German-style stollen; we couldn’t look too “ethnic”.

Every second Christmas was different though, because those years we drove to Windsor to have Christmas with my dad’s sister, whose birthday is also on Christmas day. Mom and dad would blend her beautiful soprano voice with his strong tenor in singing German carols on the long drive. That must be where I learned them, although now I can generally only get through the first verse before having to resort to humming. One of my favourite things about those visits was the Christmas Eve church service in German. I can still picture the advent wreaths with their candles, the tree in the nave, and smell the fragrant fir boughs on the pews. The church would be packed, with everyone in their finest: mom and my aunt in their fur-collared coats and pretty hats; dad and my uncle in camel coats, their fedoras respectfully removed; my cousin and I likely in velvet and our brothers probably in new sweaters and flannel trousers. The hymnals were in German, and in Gothic script, which I couldn’t read but appreciated for its beauty – and thanks to the recent 4 hour drive, the lyrics would be fresh in my mind, so I could sing along.

Roughly translated, “Süßer die Glocken nie klingen” means “the bells have never sounded more sweet”. I was able to find several translations into English on the web, but all of them felt clunky – straight translation doesn’t work well for poetry and song lyrics since it tends to lose the cadence and rhyme scheme that make the original work. So….. I’ve tried my own translation. It’s not exactly word-for-word, but I think it captures the sentiment.

If you have a favourite international carol, I’d love to hear about it. Music really does cross all boundaries.

If you’d like to hear the song in the version that Hildegard sent to me, it’s here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciE9_FqjwNc&app=desktop

but if you’d like to hear the Boney M version that my kids grew up with and love, it’s at the end of their medley of German carols, followed by their own – quite lovely – English paraphrasing “let’s keep the Christmas bells ringing, not just one day of the year”)

https://youtu.be/1dAa0uVXYjs

Süßer die Glocken nie klingen,
Als zu der Weihnachtszeit,
Ist, als ob Engelein singen
Wieder von Frieden und Freud’,
Wie sie gesungen in seliger Nacht!
Glocken mit heiligem Klang,
Klingt doch die Erde entlang!

Sweeter is ne’er the bells’ ringing

Than at Christmastide.

It’s as if angels are singing

Once more of peace and of joy,

Just as they sang on that blessed night!

Bells with their heavenly sound

Heard the whole earth round

O wenn die Glocken erklingen,
Schnell sie das Christkindlein hört:
Tut sich vom Himmel dann schwingen,
Eilet hernieder zur Erd’.
Segnet den Vater, die Mutter, das Kind;
Glocken mit heiligem Klang,
Klingt doch die Erde entlang!

O when the bells begin pealing

As soon as the Christchild does hear

He descends once again from heaven

And hurries to us on the earth.

Blessed be the Father, the Mother, the Child;

Bells with their heavenly sound

Heard the whole earth round

Klinget mit lieblichem Schalle
Über die Meere noch weit,
Dass sich erfreuen doch Alle
Seliger Weihnachtszeit,
Alle aufjauchzen mit einem Gesang!
Glocken mit heiligem Klang,
Klinget die Erde entlang!

Ring with your beautiful noise

Over the world’s wide seas

So that people everywhere will rejoice.

And now at blessed Christmastime

Bring everyone cheer with a song!

Bells with their heavenly sound

Heard the whole earth round

3 comments

  1. What a lovely post with such great memories. I know my father had a record album with some Irish Christmas carols that he played and a lot of Roger Whitaker Christmas carols he played. That was as close as we got to our heritage at Christmas. My grandfather, like your dad, wanted to be considered Canadian…. Merry Christmas!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ohhh, thank you!!! Need to copy the words so I can follow along with the choir. I’m sending this to Oliver in Germany

    Love you so much

    >

    Liked by 1 person

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