Upper Kentmere Valley, photographed January, 2011, Peter Bettess
Pete Bettess - Religion and Christmas
Pete Bettess Personal

I am not a very religious person.  My view is that when we die that almost certainly the end of us. But the universe is very strange. As J. B. S. Haldane said: "Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose." When you consider effects like Quantum Mechanics and the quantum entanglement which Einstein described as " spukhafte Fernwirkung " [ 18 ] or "spooky action at a distance ", then it seems to me that anything is possible. There may be a loving, personal God, who created and controls the universe and although we cannot see him (or her), he (or she) may be fully aware of everything that goes on.

Despite my scepticism I do attend St. Cuthbert's Kentmere, very occasionally. I have read the lesson a few times. St. Cuthbert's is a beautiful little church, with a lovely interior. One of the most impressive features of the decorations is the set of kneelers, all made by local people. These sit on the ledges of the pews and give a lovely effect. The picture below shows the church decorated for Christmas.

St. Cuthbert's, Kentmere, decorated for Christmas, 2010

However, totally inconsistently, with my religious scepticism, I love Christmas, and  the Christmas activities.  I like the quote from John Mortimer about Christmas  'What a wonderful story, if it is true, and what a wonderful story, even if it isn't.'  Every Christmas I try to read a range of Christmas literature. At the moment I try to read some of the following:

Christmas Literature

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol and other Christmas books for example The Cricket on the Hearth, The Goblins who stole a Sexton, The Haunted Man and the Ghost's bargain. I quite like the film of A Christmas Carol, which is entitled Scrooge, starring Alastair Sim. But some aspects of the film are a bit odd. Tiny Tim is nearly as large as Bob Crachit, and does not look at all poorly. The best film version of A Christmas Carol, in my opinion, is the cartoon version, made by Richard Williams, in 1971, with Alastair Sim doing Scrooge's voice. (It won an Oscar, though that is not why I like it.)

Sir Gawain and the Greeen Knight I have the Penguin copy of this, with the translation by Brian Stone which I think is excellent. I have recently bought a copy of the Naxos 2 CD of the audio book of Sir Gawain and that is very good, although the translation seems to be freer. It is very well read.

John Masefield, The Box of Delights  (Or when the wolves were running) .  I first got to know this as a child in the 1950's when it was dramatised on Children's Hour on the radio, by John Keir Cross.  It is one of the most inventive stories I have ever read, with a blend of magic, criminals, and homely Christmas time events. There is a BBC DVD of the book, which was produced about 1986. It is quite good. The music which was used for the radio and television productions is the third movement of Hely-Hutchinson 's Carol Symphony. The symphony uses lots of carol tunes and is quite delightful. I have also recently bought the audiobook of The Box of Delights.

W. H. Auden, For the Time Being, A Christmas Oratorio. This is rather dense and I find Auden's logic difficult to follow. There is a video on the web of a performance given by the New Theater of Sound, in New York. I copied the sound track onto my iPod, to listen to. It is very interesting and I think that I get something out of it.


Christmas Music

I originally had an antipathy to LPs and CDs of Christmas music, for some reason which escapes me now, but over the years I started to acquire quite a few recordings, and now I am obsessed with them in December. In the house I am not allowed Christmas music before Advent. The list below gives some of the musical pieces that I have acquired over the years. It also includes music for other seasons. The Saint-Saëns, Oratorio de Noël, and the Respigh, Lauda per la Nativita are recent discoveries and very tuneful and interesting works they are. The Adams El Niño, I find rather unsympathetic, but I will keep trying. My favourite pieces of Christmas music are Finzi, In Terra Pax and Vaughan-Williams Hodie. My favourite carol is the setting of Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day by Gardiner.

Seasonal Music Catalogue


Recordings which I have:

Adams El Niño , CD
Arnold, Malcolm, The Holly and the Ivy, CD, fantastic, over the top, loud and loads of Christmas tunes
Bach, Christmas Oratorio , CD and DVD,
Bax, Christmas Eve , CD
Brahms, Marienlieder , CD
Britten, A Ceremony of Carols , Escolania de Montserrat, CD
Carols from Kings, Choir of King's College , David Willcocks
Christmas Carols, Choir of Westminster Abbey , Simon Preston, CD
Finzi, In Terra Pax , LP and two CDs
Gombert, Three Motets , CD
Handel, Messiah , CD
Hely-Hutchinson, Carol Symphony , CD
Leroy Anderson, Suite of Carols (excerpts), Frederick Fennell, Eastman-Rochester POPS Orchestra, CD Mercury Living Presence, 434 376-2
Leroy Anderson, A Christmas Festival , Frederick Fennell, Eastman-Rochester POPS Orchestra, CD Mercury Living Presence, 434 376-2
In dulci jubilo , CD
Mathias, Ave Rex , CD
Mendelssohn , Three Motets, Op. 39 , Escolania de Montserrat, CD
Midnight Mass at Bethlehem , CD
Mozart, Three German Dances, K 605, Number 3 , Sleigh Ride
Music for Christmas, BBC, CD
Nielsen, Aladdin , CD
Saint-Saëns, Camille, Oratorio de Noël,
Schönberg, Weinachtsmusik , CD
Respighi, the Adoration of the Magi , from Three Botticelli Pictures
Respighi Lauda per la Nativita
Rimsky-Korsakov Christmas Eve Suite
Strauss, Richard Die Heiligen Drei Könige CD
Tchaikovsky, Nut-cracker Suite , LP and CD
Traditional Christmas Songs, CD
Vaughan-Williams, Fantasia on Christmas Carols , LP and CD
Vaughan-Williams, Hodie , LP and CD
Vaughan-Williams, Fantasia on Christmas Carols , City of London Sinfonia, Richard Hickox, Chandos CHAN 10385
Vaughan-Williams, On Christmas Night A Masque adapted from Dickens' A Christmas Carol , City of London Sinfonia, Richard Hickox, Chandos CHAN 10385
Vaughan-Williams, The First Nowell A Nativity Play, City of London Sinfonia, Richard Hickox, Chandos CHAN 10385
Warlock, Various Christmas songs , CD

List of CDs and CD sets of Christmas Music

King's College boxed set:

An Advent Procession with Carols , Philip Ledger, Choir of King's College, Cambridge
A Festival of Lessons and Carols , Choir of King's College, Cambridge, conductor Philip Ledger, Thomas Trotter, organ, EMI CDM 5 66242 2
Christmas Music from King's , Choir of King's College, Cambridge, Sir David Willcocks, EMI CDM 566244 2
Favourite Carols from King's , Choir of King's College, Cambridge, Sir David Willcocks, EMI CDM 566241 2
Boxed set of Christmas Music:
Nuit de Noel, La Messe de Minuit en L'eglise Sainte Catherine JACD 030
Escolania De Montserrat, conducted Ireneu Segarra, Benjamin Britten A Ceremony of Carols , Felix Mendelssohn, Three Motets, Opus 39., JACD 006
Les Petits Chanteurs de Saint-Francois de Versailles, Christmas Night, JACD 026

Vaughan-Williams, Hodie and Fantasia on Christmas Carols , Sir David Willcocks, London Symphony Orchestra, Dame Janet Baker, Richard Lewis, John Shirley-Quirk, John Barrow, Choir of Guildford Cathedral, Barry Rose, EMI CDM 5 67427 2
Vaughan-Williams, Fantasia on Christmas Carols, On Christmas Night A Masque adapted from Dickens' A Christmas Carol , The First Nowell A Nativity Play City of London Sinfonia, Richard Hickox, Chandos CHAN 10385
A Star Over Bethlehem, Choral Jewels for Christmas , Janice Chandler, James Chaffran, J. Reilly Lewis, Chorus and Orchestra of the Choral Arts Society of Washington, Norman Scribner. CD Naxos 8.555049
BBC, Music for Christmas , Taverner Consort, Choir and Players, Andrew Parrott, CD BBC MM116
A Christmas Celebration , Huddersfield Choral Society, Sellers Engineering Band, conducted by Brian Kay and Phillip McCann, Simon Lindley organ, Chandos, CHAN 4530.
A Festival of Christmas , Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra, Edmund Walters, Chandos, CHAN 7111



Easter Music Catalogue

Bach, Easter Oratorio , (to get)
Bach, St. Matthew Passion , CD,
Bach, St. John Passion , CD,
Elgar, The Apostles , CD
Elgar, The Kingdom , CD
Handel, Messiah , CD
Haydn, Symphony No. 30 , the Alleluia, (uses Gregorian Plainchant for Easter), CD
Rimsky Korsakov Easter Festival Overture (to get)
Wagner, Parsifal , CD
Vaughan-Williams, Mystical Songs , LP and CD
Wagner, Die Walküre



Glazunov, The Seasons , CD
Vivaldi, The Fours Seasons , CD


Britten, Spring Symphony , LP
Nielsen, Fynsk Forar , CD


Vaughan-Williams, An Oxford Elegy , LP and CD



Delius, Sleigh Ride , CD
Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 1, Winter Daydreams








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