Carol tends a special crop, a crop of words that come with music, words that come with music at one time of the year, always at one time of the year, only at the one time of the year. They are lovely as calla lilies but as seasonal as a Christmas cactus.

But climate change is affecting them. They used to show up on the same day every year and last for twelve glorious days, ringing in the air, macaronic mixtures of English and Latin, syntactic inversions, archaisms sweet with the dusty-honey scent of old books, gleeful alexicals (falala), references to holly and ivy and boar’s heads and wassail. Now they blossom earlier and earlier, fading in rather than bursting forth, and some of them barely open up at all; and in most places they drop dry to the floor and are swept away on the very day they used to blossom, or a day later at most.

Carol does not rejoice at this. Although she loves the longer blooming, by the time she most wants to hear these words they are coming faded, their scent not so much heady as decaying or simply desiccated. She finds she has to keep a window box, a little yard garden or corral, so that she can still enjoy the blossoms for herself when they should be in peak, in the days after most people have stuffed them into plastic bags and left them on the curb.

How churlish people can be. A little care’ll keep the cute curls of these lexemes as bright as a new poinsettia. What is needed is not a cure-all but simply the food of attention. If people would but keep these delicious harks and God rest ye’s and in dulci’s and many kinds of joy on their lips a dozen days longer, they would have such an epiphany!

It is lonely work, this tending of Carol’s. Her sounds of joy are often snatched up in passing on the way to saturnine Saturnalias and plutomania stretched from here to Uranus. She spends most of the year disconnected from all. She waters, weeds, waits, for the chance to see, oh so briefly and for just once in a year, her friend, her soul mate, who issues forth in a long breath and dances lightly as though on eggshells (at dancing she excels): Gloria.


Carol. Noun and verb. A word now used mainly for celebratory verse songs about Christmas, though it was first used in reference to a ring-dance, thence to a merry occasion at which ring-dances were performed, and then to the modern sense by the associated music for the dance. Some users may extend carol to refer to the fuller set of Christmas songs, including such ones as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “White Christmas,” but many would see those as outside the idiom and scope. There are some extant carols for non-Christmas occasions, such as “The Agincourt Carol” (listen to two different versions by Lumina Vocal Ensemble and Silly Sisters), but the common collocation Christmas carol is now pretty much redundant, though useful for helping distinguish carol from Carol.

The name Carol is the obvious strong overtone for carol, but the words are not related. The song carol is of debated origin, possible related to chorus, or perhaps to corolla “little crown”. The name Carol is at origin the same as Charles and all the related ones (Carl, Karl, Carolyn, Karel, Charlemagne, etc. – though not Carroll as in Carroll O’Connor; that’s from an Irish word). It comes from a Germanic root meaning “free man” that is also the source of churl. Other tastes you may get from carol include curl, chorale, care’ll, cure-all, Clairol, calorie, and of course carrel.

One response to “carol

  1. At my boarding school in England we were taught “King Jesus hath a garden” as a specifically Easter carol, to be sung at that time on the calendar. The web-site ( lists it as “of Christmas” but it is very much more suited to the spring.

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