“Hay and straw”

Despite the rural placement, there is actually no hay and straw in this house. I include it just to show that I do have somewhere to rest my head, unlike a certain someOne.

This December I have been playing Christmas songs almost from the start of the month. Earlier years I have only done this occasionally, at the spur of the moment. I bought a Christmas CD the first year I had a CD player and has played that sometimes, and another Christmas CD with panflute some years later, but generally I have almost ignored Christmas songs, as I have ignored most other things Christmas related. Well, I did spend Christmas with my best friend for many years and superficially took part in their rituals, but mostly just to be nice.

This year, I have had various good old Christmas songs in my head since around the turn of the month. We’re talking about Christian Christmas songs, not the modern secular “please be nice and let us all be happy” Xmas songs which goes out of their way to not mention God, much less Jesus, although Santa Claus is kosher here since the local name does not have anything to do with saints. These songs are gaining prominence here in Scandinavia at least, but they are not on my mind, of course. I am remembering the songs that were classics when I was born. And probably in most cases when my parents were born too, shortly after World War I.

In fact, today I found one song that was almost forgotten. It is not really a Christmas carol, but there is a line that is vaguely Christmas related, so it is on the Christmas CD Julefred (in Norwegian) by Solveig Leithaug Henderson. There is a parallel English version available, in which the Norwegian songs have been translated into English. I recommend it, as she also has a beautiful voice. She sounds just like she looks. Her voice is not really Enya-level, but is very clean and ideally fit for quiet ballads, and Christmas carols without excessive jazz.

Hay and straw (“Høy og strå” in Norwegian) was a song Solveig’s old parents taught her just as it was about to be forgotten. “It is surely well known among people above 90” they told her. Seems like it was snatched from the jaws of oblivion indeed!

I was listening to Christmas songs on Spotify, the (then) European music streaming site. I was searching for Julefred (Christmas Peace) as this is the name of another Christmas album I know of, and this one showed up as well, and had a couple of my old favorites. It was seeming coincidence that I came to hear this one, and immediately paid attention: The melody was very, very familiar. One of my beloved songs from The Christian Church (“Smith’s Friends”, a Norwegian super pious church) uses the same melody. They “borrowed” it from this song – I assume it is safely out of copyright, since that’s shorter here than in the USA – but I had never heard the original until now. I heard it and was greatly moved.

The song is not really about Christmas, but generally about the poverty in which Jesus Christ lived, having nowhere to call his home.

The birds of the sky may have their nests, the foxes in the forest their den; the world’s Savior had no place he called his home on Earth.

Hay and straw was the bedding of his crib, the world’s desert was his resting place. He to whom earth and heaven belongs, wandered here on Earth without a home.

When in prayer he spoke to his father, he went up to the top of the mountain; he who created myriads of stars, for himself he did not build a house.

(From the Norwegian song; the official translation is re-imagined in poetry.)

There is some uncertainty as to whether Jesus actually did own a home, as he lived in Capernaum for a while and there is a reference to “his house”, though it is unclear whether he owned or rented it. In any case, he spent much time on the road and at some point famously mentioned that he did not have anything to rest his head at. So I think the song is justified, whatever the literal facts.

I can’t help but notice that Moses is said to have left his position as Pharaoh’s daughter’s son, choosing instead to suffer with God’s people in the desert for the rest of his life. Elsewhere, Siddhartha Gautama turned his back on a kingdom to achieve enlightenment, and as the Buddha spent his life as a beggar to teach others. Even Lao-Tzu eventually left his library and set off with only a lowly water buffalo, at which point he supposedly wrote the Tao te Ching on request.

I can’t help but think that anyone who wants to save the world from the luxury of their palace or even mansion is unlikely to have lasting success, given the necessity for all these great spirits to venture into the desert. (Not that all of these are equal in my eyes, but you should know that already.) And rarely is this summed up better than in this near forgotten Christmas song: He to whom Earth and Heaven rightly belongs, wandered here on Earth without a home. Well, at least part of the time. ^_^

2 thoughts on ““Hay and straw”

  1. You must, must, must listen to “It Wasn’t His Child” by Skip Ewing. Somewhat difficult to find, but . . . it is out there. I first didn’t know what it was talking about (I was in college, I think, when I first heard it), but it is pleasant, and the last verse(s) really make one’s eyes go wide and say, “Wow!” And it’s pretty.

    • Actually, that took only a few seconds to find on YouTube. It is a very human song about a topic that is often made extra mysterious, so I can see how it has its place. Pleasant melody also.

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