Song for the Season: Sufan Stevens, “Once in Royal David’s City”

“Once in Royal David’s City” is my all time favorite Christmas carol, in large part because I can actually sing the descant on the last verse. But it’s also an intricate, simple lullaby. Every Christmas Eve service as a kid began with this song, with single voices, soaring over the back of the congregation. Then the full choir would pick up the melody, and the whole congregation, orchestra, and organ. It turned the coolness of the church and the anticipation of the evening into warmth. It’s a transformative song in that regard, marking the shift from advent into Christmas proper. Unsurprisingly, they lyrics are by a Victorian woman, Cecil France Alexander. She also wrote All Thing Bright and Beautiful.  I love the lines, not normally in the hymnal version, “For He is our childhood’s pattern; /Day by day, like us He grew.” The above version isn’t the one on my mix; there’s a slower, acoustic version Stevens did for the same album that I like much more. Alas, it’s not on Youtube.

A group of teenagers covering Stevens’s version last Christmas.


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