“Carpathian sheep men are dancing tonight. . . “

Dallas, 4 AM sleet

Dallas, 4 AM sleet

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It’s one of those memories that makes one crazy. Did I dream it? Did it happen? Did it happen in a former life? Somewhere in the inner folds of my brain I can hear a women’s chorus singing what I think is a Christmas carol that ends (point of fact—the ending is all I hear) with an ascending melody on the words, “to the Christ of the snow.”

A few short years ago, when I was still thinking about church Christmas parties, I bought yet another collection of “all the Christmas songs everyone wants to sing and then some.” In the collection is the carol “Christ of the Snow,” a traditional Hungarian carol, or so the book says, arranged after a setting for three-part women’s chorus by Harvey Gaul. It makes perfect sense that at some point in my musical life I accompanied—or at least heard enough times to remember—such a setting.

The mystery is that my carol book gives the Hungarian (I presume) title of the carol, Posjtarolo Arvendezna. I can usually find an inkling of information about almost anything, but this phrase, whatever language it is, has only one mention I can find—the Harvey Gaul anthem from 1932. The Carpathian Mountains are a large range that cuts across Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, Slovakia, and Poland, so I think the phrase could be from one of several languages

I was humming “to the Christ of the Snow” at 4 this morning as I was up taking a picture of the snowy parking lot beneath my 4th-floor window (I shouldn’t need to mention by this point that I’m always up at 4 in the morning). Turned out pretty well, I think. And then I was pondering snowstorms I have known.

Snowstorms I have known.

There was the blizzard of ‘49 in Western Nebraska. I don’t exactly remember it (we lived in Wyoming then) except that the legend was recounted often by ’52

The Blizzard of '49

The Blizzard of ’49

when we moved there. I wished as a kid we’d have another Blizzard of ’49. Don’t get me wrong. We had some pretty fierce blizzards, but apparently none equaled ’49.

And then there were the regular snowstorms in Iowa City. Snow. Simply lots of snow. I don’t remember any particular storm while I was there, 1974-1977. But, then, I don’t remember much about Iowa. Straight vodka by the quart will do that to a person.

In the fall of ’77, I moved from Iowa to Methuen, MA, to be with him. You know, that one that I was not complete without. His house was pretty much in the country (Methuen is on the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border). Cross country skiing is big there.

On February 6, 1978 (a Monday), the Nor’easter that had been building up let loose on Massachusetts. It snowed for pretty much two days, and we were trapped in the house. Literally could not open the doors. That Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, and services at my church in Salem (25 miles away) were cancelled (we had Ash Sunday the following Sunday). He was from Stowe, VT, and this was simply an inconvenience for him. And off he went on a work trip as soon as he could get out of the house, leaving me stranded in the Massachusetts countryside. At that time, my only means of support (besides him) was a half-time church music job. I had almost no friends and certainly no family anywhere near. The only thing keeping me in that snow-bound place was him. You’d think I would have packed up by the end of the week and headed to my old stomping grounds in California. But I had even less sense then than I have now.

The Blizzard of '78

The Blizzard of ’78

Eventually I did get out of New England (after 17 years).  I came to Dallas because my partner (he was more than just a him) got a job here. The difference between my moves across the country was that this time I knew I how I was going to support myself before I moved. And I was also following my lifelong dream of studying creative writing. I didn’t move here just for him. In fact, I waited almost a year to follow him—waited until I had the possibility of a “life.”

But the day I left Massachusetts there was a foot of snow on the ground, and there was an ice storm on top of that. I drove all the way to Waterbury, CN (perhaps 150 miles) before I stopped for the night. I’d say I got out of Massachusetts just in the nick of time.

Now this morning it’s snowing/sleeting/icing in Dallas. We’re not having classes today, so I’m here at my desk writing. And as soon as I put the period here, I will start grading papers. The weather forecasters got this one right, and they say it’s not going to get above freezing for a couple more days. Well, that’s OK with me. I have food in the house and lots to do, and if I want to go anywhere—

—why would I want to go anywhere? The cats and I know when to sing, “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.” Well hang out here and watch a few people try to

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

get out of the parking lot and be glad neither SMU nor anyone else expects an old man like me to appear anywhere today.

I did manage to make a little video. If anyone knows for sure the origin of this tune, I’d love to hear from you.

“The Christ of the Snow”
Posjtarolo Arvendezna
(presumably) Hungarian traditional
After an arrangement by Harvey Gaul (1932)

Carpathian sheep men are dancing tonight,
Carpathian hill folk now follow the light.
They’re coming from highlands, they’re coming from low,
To the shrine in the village, to the Christ of the Snow,
To the Christ of the Snow.

Sing fathers and mothers, sing daughters and sons,
Sing shepherds and gentry, your glad orisons.
The Christ child is born now, the shrine is aglow,
Carol hill folk and town folk to the Christ of the Snow,
To the Christ of the Snow.

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