Thursday, December 24, 2009

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Today’s musical offering for Christmas Eve is one of my favorites among the traditional carols, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” The melody has so much peace & gentleness to impart, & I’ve played it here on one of my old favorite instruments, a koa Lanikai baritone ukulele. I don’t play the baritone uke much anymore, but it’s hard to beat for a certain soft & melodic sound, with just enough low(ish) end to create some harmony.

This tune is very popular of course, & it seems evocative too. But as I was playing it, I began meditating on what, exactly, this song does evoke. What is the “little town of Bethlehem” we picture when we hear this melody? For those of us brought up in a Christian tradition, even if, as is the case with yours truly, we no longer subscribe to many of the faith’s beliefs, we may well see an image of a Nativity scene divorced from any historical context.

But Bethlehem is a real place, a city on the West Bank in Israel, with a population divided between the Jewish, Christian & Islamic faiths (with a Muslim majority in the population). This is an area of the world that could well use tranquility & peace, but the conflicts there are so deeply rooted that they sometimes seem impossible to resolve. The territory is essentially mythic for three major religions & beyond that, conflicting historical claims spring from various wars fought over thousands of years. By the 20th century, Bethlehem was part of the British Mandate of Palestine & was included in the state of Israel by the United Nations resolution in 1947. The city is the site of Rachel’s Tomb, a very holy site in the Jewish faith; it also is considered the birthplace of King David, as well as the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth.

One organization that has a very hands-on approach to resolving these conflicts is Ukuleles for Peace, an organization whose mission is “reating opportunities for Jewish and Arab children to meet & become involved with one another in their daily lives." One way the organization does this is by providing the kids with ukes so they can play music together. Please check them out. Is this the whole answer to the problems in that region? Of course not; but it strikes me as the sort of grassroots movement that could have a real impact, & perhaps spread to other areas.

All the images in the slideshow are from Wiki Commons, & all are in the public domain. They show Bethlehem & its inhabitants from the 19th thru early 20th centuries. Hope you enjoy the music.

Pic at the top of the post:
Main entrance into Bethlehem from Jerusalem, 2005
(photo released into the public domain by Wikipedia user Zero0000)


  1. Thanks for that, I found it very moving.

    And all the very best of the season's blessings to you and yours.

  2. Hi Dave: Glad you liked it, & Season's Greetings to you & yours--happy holidays!

  3. Hi John
    Have A Brilliant Christmas.Regards From tony.

  4. Hi Tony: Thanks, & season's greetings to you & yours!

  5. I have never heard a more beautiful version! Thank you!! Happy Christmas!!

  6. Hi Reya: Thanks! Happy Holidays!

  7. Lovely rendition, John. For some (cheesy) reason, this song evokes for me the opening sequence of Ben-Hur, which depicts a heavily Hollywood-zed version of the Nativity.

  8. Hi K: I remember that scene! Glad you liked this, & a very merry Christmas to you!


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