Advent II: Roses, Skis and White Tea

We’ve said before we’ve never met a white tea we disliked. And while all rules allow of an exception, Walnut Orange Scone, today’s calendar tea, is not that aberration. It doesn’t taste of scone, but we weren’t really expecting a tea to do that. Scones are, for lack of a better word, solid-tasting. You feel the effort of eating them. Tea on the other hand, and this white tea in particular, isn’t like that. It’s delicate, and floral, and whoever thought to combine white tea with orange blossom is, in our book, akin to genius. The warmth of the walnut laced through it is a lovely touch, and gives an extra weight to the tea. The company behind the calendar errs in only one particular; they think this is a morning tea. It’s not. It’s a comforting wrap of a tea to be drunk before bed. That would henceforth be our routine, but for the fact that we don’t think you want to read everlastingly about Walnut Orange Scone white tea, though we put ever so many poems next to it.

In liturgical news, it’s Advent II, which means Mary and Joseph have joined the tabletop crib, and here and there people are beginning to attend Nine Lessons and Carols. Ours isn’t until Gaudete Sunday, but over the water in Lang’s Auld Grey Toon of St Andrews, the service has been and gone, held deliberately early so the students can catch it.

This news was passed on to us today by a friend as we chatted on Skype, and it got us thinking about our early memories of the service. We were still nominally Presbyterian then, so knew nothing of what to expect. (Theological quarry; can one be nominally Presbyterian still and be possessed of a rosary?)

We remember very little about that first Nine Lessons bar the crowd, the candlelight and Crown of Roses.  We talked last Sunday of the glad expectation of Advent: Crown of Roses is the flip side to that coin. It’s slow, solemn, and hints at the Crucifixion. It has a weight to it that explains as no priest yet successfully done for us, why Advent is so often folded into talk of the Apocalypse.

In the event that you, like us that first Nine Lessons, don’t know Crown of Roses, it’s an anthem by Tchaikovsky. Normal people hear ‘Tchaikovsky’ this time of year and think Nutcracker. We hear his name and think Crown of Roses. Practically speaking, it’s scarcely done because it calls for a divisi from the basses, and it’s a well-established truth that there are never enough men in a choir. Back in St Andrews, our three-person-choir dared not touch it because our Sometimes Tenor would have inevitably had to carry the baseline alone, and that would have been an unkindness. Speaking seriously though, and not as a tongue-in-cheek chorister, it’s a rare, rich anthem, and the world should know it better.  It’s sung here by the All Saints’ Choir of Northampton.


Advent though, as we’ve said, is a funny, twofold season. Solemn on the one hand, almost giddily ebullient on the other. This was best typified by the Presbyterian minister we grew up with. Faced with a near-empty church in the winter months, he didn’t wail doom and End of Days but urged everyone instead to Get off your skis and onto your knees. This in spite of the fact that no god Presbyterian is in the habit of kneeling. That’s dangerously Romish. (Cf our leap to Scottish Episcopacy by way of Marian devotion if you doubt this.) But in the spirit of his old idiom, here’s a limerick for Advent II.

Winter Weather: Drift Into Church

From The Church Year in Limericks, Christopher M. Brunelle

With skis, on foot or by sleigh,
Your arrive is welcome today,
And your timely behaviour
Improves on our Saviour:
The Christ Child is still on his way!

(N.B. In the course of annotating this poem for posting, we’ve discovered these limericks began as an effort to enliven the beginning of choir rehearsals. We’ve had our share of those, and we love this book of verse all the more for its testament to the wilful ecclesiastical humour of the choir stalls. Not to mention we feel doubly vindicated about pairing these limericks with anthems!)

Advent I: This is the Record of John

We’re into Advent proper now, and one of the things we most miss about having a choir is the Advent music. Oh, we love Christmas music as much as anyone, but we love the hopefulness of Advent, the way the atmosphere is pregnant with hope and anticipation, even more. ‘Little Lent,’ we’ve heard it called, and it is, because part of Advent is Apocalyptic. But it’s also ebullient, expectant, and whereas lent has a pall over it, Advent moves from darkness to light. It’s why we’re encouraged by today’s collect to ‘Cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.’

With all that in mind, we thought this year, in the name of variety, we’d give our Advent Sundays on the blog over to posting a favourite Advent anthem, or maybe a hymn we miss. But lest you think we’re too serious about the whole thing, we’re going to include a poem with it -selections from the delightful Church Year in Limericks, a happy discovery of ours made while trying to track down another poetry anthology for work. After all, we must be able now and then to laugh at our doctrine as we would anything else, or risk the heresy of taking it all too seriously.


With that in mind, we shan’t grouse about the fact that tonight’s tea (see above) missed the memo that rose is the colour of Advent III, not I. It’s a returning tea to the Advent selection, Strawberry Parfait, and our abiding memory of it is twofold. In the first place, it tastes of pink. In the second, we last drank it after a trying ordeal negotiating our way back from Stirling bus station.

This year it still tastes of pink, and it’s still oddly sweet in a way that recalls a jelly donut. Personally, we keep expecting Truly Scrumptious and company to waltz around the nearest corner and start singing about it. It’s that sort of sweet. Not a bad tea, exactly, but another desert tea -and, oh grievous heresy -not one you’d want to take a biscuit with.  To temper the sweetness, a little, here’s an everlasting Advent favourite of ours, written by Orlando Gibbons and sung here by the Kings College Choir, Cambridge.


And when you’ve revelled in the still small sanctity of that, here’s a bit of levity to close. Who knew what the church calendar was missing was limericks?

Holiday Declarations

From The Church Year in Limericks by Christopher M. Brunelle, © Morning Star Music Publishers 2017

Our cranberries used to be relish
But now it’s our church they embellish
(with popcorn and string)
To welcome the King
Who saves us from fates that are hellish.