In The Bleak Midwinter

Oh, Baby, it’s cold outside! Winter has arrived in my neck of the woods with a vengeance. We have officially dipped into “the teens” (Fahrenheit), and reports of all-time temperature lows are coming from across the United States.

Copyright Free image @ Pixabay

Somehow it seems a fitting juxtaposition as we enter the Christmas season to reflect upon the promise of spring brought by our Savior’s birth, the hope of new life with his Atonement. No matter the weather, we can always experience joyous warmth from The Son.

Lebrecht Music and Arts Photo Library / Alamy Stock Photo

In January 1872, the prolific English poet Christina Rossetti published a beautiful poem entitled “A Christmas Carol” in Scribner’s Monthly.

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain,
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty —
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom Cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom Angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and Archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air;
But only His Mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am? —
If I were a Shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man
I would do my part, —
Yet what I can I give Him, —
Give my heart.

It took 34 years for Rosetti’s beloved poem to be set to music. When it was, the renowned composer Gustav Holst immortalized it in The English Hymnal, retitled as “In the Bleak Midwinter“. There have been other arrangements of the hymn, but none parallel the Holst. Combined with his haunting melody, Rosetti’s poem is transformed into an achingly beautiful hymn – echoing like a lullaby softly sung near the holy manger.

Copyright Free image @ Pixabay

Whether one believes the baby Jesus was actually born in December, or during the lambing season [a Latter-day Saint speculation holds that Christ’s birthday is April 6, 1 B.C.] – it rarely snows in Israel. Temperatures at their very lowest hover around 40° Fahrenheit. So, this poem has often been thought of as an allegory. Frozen hearts and a mountain of sin had accumulated across the earth for centuries prior to the coming of a long-foretold Messiah.

“What could be colder, more chilling than century on century of wrong upon wrong upon wrong?

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone… until the Son of God came into the world bringing the warmth of heaven’s love to melt away the hardness in the hearts of mankind. At least, that’s the way I like to think of it.”

– Sally DeFord

I have always loved this song. The poetry and melody resonate deep in my soul. The final stanza brings tears to my eyes – “What can I give him, poor that I am?…” – with a pledge to give the only thing truly mine to offer our Lord and Redeemer – my heart.

One of the most moving performances in my memory of this hymn is by the legendary Sissel. She was the special guest artist for the 2006 Christmas Concert with the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square. I have attached a video of her rendition for you to enjoy.

Christmas blessings! Holly


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