Sunday, 3 January 2016

‘Open you the East Door,
and let the New Year in’

‘Open you the East Door, and let the New Year in’ … looking east along the River Liffey in Dublin this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

We ushered in the New Year at the Choral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, this morning [3 January 2016].

The Revd Garth Burning presided at the Eucharist, Canon John Bartlett served as deacon, and I served the liturgy as sub-deacon, assisting at the administration of the Holy Communion, and Canon Mark Gardner preached.

The setting, the Plainsong Missa Ordis Factor, was sung by a Consort of the Cathedral Choir.

The Communion Motet on this first Sunday of the new year was, appropriately, Benjamin Britten’s setting of Levy-Dew, also known as ‘A New Year Carol.’

This folk song is of Welsh origin and traditionally sung at the New Year. It is associated with a New Year’s Day custom of sprinkling people with water newly drawn from a well. One variation of this traditional folk song appeared in Walter de la Mare’s Tom Tiddler’s Ground, an anthology of verse for children. Benjamin Britten set this version of the song to music as ‘A New Year Carol’ in 1934.

The song is associated with Pembrokeshire, where it figures in a New Year's Day custom in which children collect fresh water from a well and go around with a sprig from an evergreen tree, sprinkling the faces of passers-by with the water while singing the carol and begging for food or money.

In other parts of Wales, the custom is known as dwr newy or ‘new water’ and the water is also used to sprinkle the rooms and doors of houses.

According to Trefor Owen, in Welsh Folk Customs (1974), the song preserves ‘an early well cult made acceptable in mediaeval Christianity through its association with the Virgin Mary.

The meaning of the words levy dew in the original lyrics is not known for certain. One theory says the words come from the Welsh phrase llef y Dduw, ‘a cry to God.’

Others link these words with the Middle English levedy (‘lady’) or the French phrase levez à Dieu, “raise to God,” which may refer to the elevation of the Host during the liturgy, followed by the elevation of the chalice. The ‘seven bright gold wires’ might be the strings of a golden harp or the candles on the altar at the High Mass.

Here we bring new water from the well so clear,
for to worship God with, this happy New Year.

Sing levy dew, sing levy dew, the water and the wine;
the seven bright gold wires and the bugles that do shine.


Sing reign of Fair Maid, with gold upon her toe,
open you the West Door, and turn the Old Year go.

Sing levy dew, sing levy dew, the water and the wine;
the seven bright gold wires and the bugles that do shine.


Sing reign of Fair Maid, with gold upon her chin,
open you the East Door, and let the New Year in.

Sing levy dew, sing levy dew, the water and the wine;
the seven bright gold wires and the bugles that do shine.


Later, I went for a walk through Temple Bar and by the banks of the River Liffey. The water of the River Lieffey at this point could hardly be described as ‘new water from the well so clear.’ But the sky was clear and in sharp contrast with the rain-filled days we have had for the last few weeks.

‘Open you the West Door, and turn the Old Year go’ … looking west along the River Liffey in Dublin this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

No comments: