Dances with Angels

Germany is responsible for many of out most beloved Christmas traditions – Christmas markets, the Christmas tree, and Santa Claus (see previous post). One it did not invent is the Christmas carol – the French and Italians have a better claim to that. The German-speaking world has given us some of our most beautiful carols, however. Over the next few days, we’ll blog on a personal selection of our favourite German carols.

In Dulci Jubilo.

"Five Dancing Angels", by Giovanni Di Paolo, 1436.

“Five Dancing Angels”, by Giovanni Di Paolo, 1436.

Meaning “In Sweet Rejoicing”, the original text was written by the medieval German mystic, Heinrich Seuse (known as Henry Suso in English), who spent his life preaching in southern Germany and Switzerland before dying in Ulm in Bavaria in 1366. It alternates between German and Latin, and recounts a supernatural encounter.

Heinrich Seuse.

Heinrich Seuse.

Seuse claimed that, alone in his room one night in 1328, he was visited by angels, who dragged him from his bed and … er … insisted that he party with them. Maybe they were freshman angels. As they danced, the angels taught him the song that we know as In Dulci Jubilo.

Now this same angel came up to the Servant (Seuse) brightly, and said that God had sent him down to him, to bring him heavenly joys amid his sufferings; adding that he must cast off all his sorrows from his mind and bear them company, and that he must also dance with them in heavenly fashion.

Which suggests that, in addition all their other Christmas innovations, Germans should also be given credit for staging the first office Christmas party. Considering that Seuse demonstrated his devotion by “mortifying his flesh” (wearing undergarments studded with nails), sleeping on stone floors in winter and not taking a bath for 25 years, it’s possible that the angels were trying to get him to relax a little.

In any case, six hundred years later, this angelic party led to a top ten Christmas hit for Mike Oldfield. And it’s as danceable as ever.

The Mike Oldfield version is here.


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