The French have a very deep tradition of Christmas carols. In fact the word carol comes from French country dances that celebrated events throughout the year, but especially during Christmas. Words were put to these lively dances creating song very different from the announcement and nativity hymn sung for masses. Coming from the peasantry the songs often celebrated the lowly witnesses or participants in the birth story—the carpenter and his humble teenage wife, the animals in the stable, the shepherds, children, and peasants. Thus these carols were subtly subversive, claiming the Christ child as one of their own. Exactly such a song is the very old carol Un flambeau, Jeannette, Isabelle—Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella.
The song originated in Provence in southern France which includes not only famous vineyard country, but mountains rising to the Alps. It was first published in 1553. The melody now sung is attributed to Baroque composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier but he probably adapted an older folk tune à boire Qu’ils sont doux, bouteille jolie from the now lost Le médecin malgré lui.
It was first translated in English in the mid-18th Century.
|An illustration for Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella.|
The song tells the story of two peasant girls who come upon the nativity and rush back to their village to tell the people and then leading them to the scene with torches in the night. At the stable all awed and struck with silence so as not to disturb the baby’s sleep.
It is still a custom in Provence for children dressed as shepherds and milkmaids to carry torches and candles while singing the carol leading a procession on the way to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
|Children in Provence still lead procession on Christmas Eve singing Un flmbeau, Jeannette, Isabelle .|
Today we feature a simple, lovely version by the Idaho based Mormon Croft Family including father Vincent Crofts, his three youngest daughters Colette Crofts, Callie Crofts, Devri Dixon and their older brother, Adam Crofts.