Merry Christmas!

Ho, Ho, Ho!

This blog is full of good stuff on the Joy of Christmas: Facts, Fun and Fantasy, for all those who love and can't get enough of Christmas!

There's lots here, so check the listing in the Blog Archive for the following:

- Traditions
- Story of Christ's Birth
- History of Santa
- World customs
- Scriptures
- Stories
- Prose
- Carols
- Meanings, symbols, origins
- Holiday greetings worldwide
- Facts and trivia
- Quotes
- Movie and TV clips
- Much more!

More will also be added. Let me know if there's something that should be here. Comments are appreciated!

To test your Christmas knowledge, see the trivia quiz at the bottom of this page!


History of Christmas Carols

According to American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, between 2000 and 2010, the most-performed holiday song was "Winter Wonderland," which was written in 1934. While recordings by The Andrews Sisters and Perry Como popularized the song in the '40s, versions by Eurythmics, Jewel and Air Supply are frequently heard on radio today.

Carol of the Bells, music by Mykola Dmytrovych Leontovych, lyrics by Peter J. Wilhousky.
Originally titled "Shchedryk", this Ukranian folk song is about a sparrow and the bountiful year that awaits a family. It was first performed in the Ukraine on the night of January 13, 1916, on the Julian calendar this is considered New Year's Eve. In the United States the song was first performed on October 5, 1921 at Carnegie Hall. Peter J. Wilhousky wrote new lyrics based on the melody of Shchedryk in 1936. He copyrighted it and the song is what we now know as "Carol of the Bells". As the title implies, this hauntingly beautiful song is about the sound of bells come Christmas time.

Do You Hear What I Hear? music and lyrics by Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne.
"Do You Hear What I Hear?" is one of the most beloved songs of the Christmas season. The story of this simple plea for peace begins, ironically, during World War II in war-torn France. Noel Regney was a young French musician who risked his life as a soldier in the French underground. The darkness and terror of those fearful years haunted him the rest of his life. After the war, he moved to the United States, where he found work composing jingles and music for TV. One day in a hotel dining room, Noel saw a beautiful woman playing the piano. Although he spoke little English and she spoke no French, he introduced himself to Gloria Shayne. Within a month they married.

In the years that followed, the tensions of the Cold War grew, and Noel’s mind was often drawn back to the terrible days he had spent in combat. He wondered if the world would ever see peace. Noel’s thoughts turned to the very first Christmas — a sacred time of peace and promise. As he reflected, the lyrics of a song came to him. When he and his wife collaborated, it was usually Noel who wrote music for Gloria’s words, but this time he handed the lyrics to his wife and asked if she would set them to music. Thus was born the beautiful Christmas carol, "Do You Hear What I Hear?"

When we hear this song, do we hear what Noel Regney wanted us to hear? The rendition of the song Noel liked best was one where the vocalist all but shouted the words “Pray for peace, people everywhere.” For him, that was the message of the song, for Noel believed that even in the darkness of fear and despair, the “child, [the] child, sleeping in the night, He will bring us goodness and light. He will bring us goodness and light.”

God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen, music and lyrics: Traditional
This traditional English carol is believed to stem from 16th century London with waits and carolers as the source. This carol had a strong cultural effect on London and on England as a whole. Charles Dickens included this carol in his 1843 story A Christmas Carol, when a young caroler tried to spread holiday cheer at the business of Scrooge and Marley. The traditional “London” tune associated with the text, is characterized as a "luck" tune. It is believed that the tune came to England from France, and is also found widely in Europe.

An old broadside copy, with three other "choice carols for the Christmas holidays," was said to have been found in the 1770 Roxburgh Collection in the British Museum. By the eighteenth century, variants of the carol could be found. Originally, the third and fourth lines were "For Jesus Christ our Savior was born upon this day" Shortly, however, a variant began to appear: "Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day." Both versions are still found today.

The song has been beset by confusion with placement of the comma. The correct usage is to place the comma after the word "merry" rather than before it. The meaning, of course, changes significantly depending on where it is placed. The original intent and meaning was to wish that those gentlemen be merry, or, "God keep you in good spirits, gentlemen." If the comma is placed before the word "merry," then the intent and tone of the carol is misread, and becomes a wish that those merry gentlemen might have some rest (however appropriate the latter might be, particularly if the gentlemen have been too merry).

The First Noel, Words and Music: Traditional English carol of the 16th or 17th century, but possibly dating from as early as the 13th Century.

This popular English carol details the event of the angels visit to the shepherds and the wanderings of the Magi, or Three Kings. In the original, Noel, the French word for Christmas, is corrupted to "Nowell."

It was first found in an 1823 manuscript. Ten years later, William Sandys included the carol, virtually unchanged, in "Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern", adding the music for the carol. Sandys' tune appears to be an amalgam of tune parts; in particular, because of its repetitive nature, it probably began as a descant to another melody or possibly as parts of other tunes. The words themselves were published on broadsides in the Cornwall region in southwest England, and some suspect a sixteenth century origin.

Hark the Herald Angels Sing, lyrics by Charles Wesley, music by Felix Mendelssohn
Charles Wesley, who was the brother of John Wesley founder of the Methodist church, wrote this popular carol in 1739. A sombre man, he requested slow and solemn music for his lyrics and thus "Hark the Herald Angels Sing” was sung to a different tune initially. Over a hundred years later Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) composed a cantata in 1840 to commemorate Johann Gutenberg's invention of the printing press. English musician William H. Cummings adapted Mendelssohn’s music to fit the lyrics of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” already written by Wesley.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, lyrics by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, music by John Baptiste Calkin
In spite of the mentions of bells and Christmas in the title, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" is as much an antiwar song as it is a pro-Christmas song. The poetry of this renowned carol was crafted by the great American literary figure, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), in the midst of the American Civil War. On Christmas Day in 1863, Longfellow wrote the familiar lines in response to the horror of the bloody conflict and the personal tragedy of his son, Lieutenant Charles Appleton Longfellow, who was severely wounded in November 1862.

It was not until sometime after 1872 that the 1863 poem, which was originally titled "Christmas Bells," was converted into a carol. The composer of the appropriate tune, John Baptiste Calkin (1827-1905), was the most famous of a family of accomplished English musicians.

Although Calkin's melody is a beautiful, gentle, and lofty rendition of the sounds of Christmas bells and is quite well received during the holidays, at least three alternative tunes have been tried. These are the moderately popular wafting melody by Johnny Marks (1909-1985), who is most noted for "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," plus tunes by John Bishop (ca. 1665-1737) and Alfred Herbert Brewer (1865-1928). Calkin's melody, however, remains predominant over the others.

It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, lyrics by Edmund Hamilton Sears, music by Richard Storrs Willis
"It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" was written by Edmund Hamilton Sears in 1849. The carol started life as a poem written by its author who was a minister living in Massachusetts at the time. The music for "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear" was composed by American musician Richard Storrs Willis in 1859 who was inspired by the words of the poem.

Joy to the World!, lyrics by Isaac Watts, music by Lowell Mason
Isaac Watts (1674-1748), author of "Joy to the World!" has been called the "father of English hymnody". A nonconformist pastor and prodigious author of theological and philosophical books (about 60) and hymns (about 700), Watts is most remembered for the extraordinary hymns, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," "Our God Our Help in Ages Past," and "Joy to the World!" First published in 1719, "Joy" was a paraphrase of the second part of Psalm 98. Originally the opening line read "Joy to the earth," but eventually the better term "world" entirely supplanted "earth."

The composition of the tune for "Joy" is attributed to Lowell Mason (1792-1872) a prominent American music educator, music editor, and hymn writer. Over a century after Watts' carol lyrics first appeared, it was printed for the first time with a splendid, dynamic tune in an 1839 collection entitled The Modern Psalmist for which Mason was the editor.

The carol synthesized by the joint talents of these two men has few peers in quality or international popularity. Both words and music, carried along by extremely esthetic conveyances of term and tone, joyfully proclaim the birth of Jesus. Of all the sacred carols, "Joy" is perhaps the most positive and uplifting declaration of the message of Christmas. The exclamation point almost universally inserted by carol editors after the initial line, "Joy to the world!," powerfully punctuates the exhilarating effect that this carol has had for the past century and a half.

O Come, All Ye Faithful, Words and music for the Latin "Adeste Fideles," by John Francis Wade. Translated into English by Frederick Oakeley.

There are usually 8 verses available for this hymn, although only verse 1-4 were written by John Francis Wade, circa 1743. The others were added around 1822. The English translations (around 1841) do not follow the usual order of verses. English Hymnals, give this order: 1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 3, 4. Some hymnals only give only verses 1-4.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel, Words: 8th Century Latin text Veni, Veni, Emanuel, Authorship Unknown; Translated from Latin to English by John Mason Neale
Music: Arranged and harmonized by Thomas Helmore in 1854, based on a 15th Century French Processional (Some sources give a Gregorian, 8th Century origin.)

This Advent hymn, written in 1851 by the Rev. John Mason Neale (1818-66), was based on one of the oldest of Christian prayers — referred to as the "O" Antiphons, the "Greater" Antiphons, and "The Seven O’s." These seven antiphons were recited as a part of the evening Vespers prayers of the Catholic Church before and after The Magnificat in the Octave before Christmas, December 17th to 23rd. Each of the seven stanzas addressed the Messiah by one of his titles, each one praising the coming of the Savior by a different name, and closing with petitions appropriate to the title. One verse was sung or chanted each evening (as opposed to being sung together as a single hymn, as we do today.)

The antiphons date back at least to the reign of Charlemagne (771-814), and the 439 lines of the English poem Christ, by Cynewulf (c. 800), are described as a loose translation and elaboration of the Antiphons. At least two — and up to five — additional verses were later added to the original seven. According to some sources, by the 12th or 13th century, but no later than the eighteenth century, five of the verses had been put together to form the verses of a single hymn, with the refrain "Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel nascetur pro te, Israel" ("Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel; Shall come to thee, O Israel") (there was no refrain in the original Latin chant).

In 1851, it was translated by and published in Rev. John Mason Neale’s Medieval Hymns. The original title was "Draw nigh, draw nigh! Immanuel." It was revised and published in 1854 in Neale and Thomas Helmore’s second edition of Hymnal Noted with the more familiar "O Come, O Come Emmanuel."

Silent Night, music by Franz Gruber, lyrics by Joseph Mohr.
Perhaps the best-known Christmas Carol is "Silent Night", which was written in 1818 by Austrian Father Joseph Mohr and Church organist Franz Gruber. The story is told of how Father Joseph Mohr learned on the day before Christmas that the organ in the Church of St. Nicholas, in Oberdorf, Austria was broken and would not be repaired in time for that night’s Midnight Mass service. Determined to have music that night, he sat down and wrote three stanzas, and convinced Franz Gruber to set the words to music. That night, the two men performed their new song, originally titled in German "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht", accompanied by Father Mohr’s guitar.

Today, "Silent Night" is sung in more than 180 languages by millions of people.

White Christmas, Words & Music by Irving Berlin
"White Christmas" was written in 1940 by a Irving Berlin for the 1942 movie "Holiday Inn" starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Berlin's assignment was to write a song about each of the major holidays of the year. But Berlin, who was Jewish, found that writing a song about Christmas was the most challenging. He drew upon his experiences of the holiday in New York and Los Angeles, but still felt that the end result was wanting. However, when Bing first heard Berlin audition "White Christmas" in 1941 he reassured Irving that he had created a winner. Bing's preliminary evaluation turned out to be a gross understatement.

Bing Crosby introduced "White Christmas" to the public on his NBC radio show, the Kraft Music Hall, December 25, 1941. The movie "Holiday Inn" was released in August, 1942. By the end of the War it had become the biggest-selling single of all time. Bing's recording hit the charts on Oct. 3, 1942, and rose to #1 on Oct. 31, where it stayed for an amazing 11 weeks. In the following years Bing's recording hit the top 30 pop charts another 16 times, even topping the charts again in 1945 and January of '47. Bing's best-selling recording of "White Christmas" sold more than 30 million copies worldwide, and is the best-selling Christmas single of all-time. The success of the song led eventually to another movie based on the song. The movie "White Christmas" became the leading box-office draw of 1954.

The most familiar version of "White Christmas" is not the one Crosby recorded in 1942, however. Bing was called back to the Decca studios on March 19, 1947, to re-record "White Christmas" as a result of damage to the 1942 master due to its frequent use. Every effort was made to reproduce the original recording session, once again including the John Scott Trotter Orchestra and the Ken Darby Singers. The resulting re-issue is the one that has become most familiar to the public.

Jingle Bells, originally titled "One Horse Open Sleigh"
Author: James Lord Pierpont (1822-1893) wrote the song in 1857. The said song was meant for a Thanksgiving program at a church in Savannah, Georgia where Pierpont was organist. The song was so well accepted that it was again sung on Christmas day and since then became one of the most popular Christmas carols.

Silver Bells, composed by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. The lyric is unusual for a Christmas song in that it describes the festival in the city and not a rural setting.

Silver Bells was first performed by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell in the motion picture The Lemon Drop Kid, filmed in July-August 1950 but released in March 1951.[1] The first recorded version was by Bing Crosby and Carol Richards, released in October 1950.[2] After the Crosby and Richards recording became popular, Hope and Maxwell were called back in late 1950 to refilm a more elaborate production of the song.

Silver Bells started out as the questionable "Tinkle Bells." Said Evans, "We never thought that tinkle had a double meaning until Jay went home and his [first] wife said, 'Are you out of your mind? Do you know what the word tinkle is?'" The word is child's slang for urination.

The song was inspired by the imagery of Salvation Army bellringers standing outside department stores during the Christmas season.

Away in a Manger was first published in 1885 in Philadelphia and used widely throughout the English-speaking world. In Britain it is one of the most popular carols, a 1996 Gallup Poll ranking it joint second. The song was first published with two verses in an Evangelical Lutheran Sunday School collection, Little Children's Book for Schools and Families (1885), edited by James R. Murray (1841-1905), where it simply bore the title "Away in a Manger" and was set to a tune called "St. Kilda," credited to J.E. Clark.

For many years the text was credited to the German reformer Martin Luther. Research has shown, however, that this is nothing more than a fable. In the book Dainty Songs for Little Lads and Lasses (1887) it bears the title "Luther's Cradle Hymn" and the note, "Composed by Martin Luther for his children, and still sung by German mothers to their little ones." A possible reason for the spurious attribution to Luther is that the 400th anniversary of his birth was in 1883. The words were either based on a poem written for this anniversary or were credited to Luther as a clever marketing gimmick. This song has never been found in Luther's works. The first half of the melody is identical to the beginning of the second theme of Waltz #4, transposed down a fourth, in G'schichten aus dem Wienerwald, Op. 325 by Johann Strauss Jr., composed 19 years earlier.

The third stanza, "Be near me, Lord Jesus" was first printed in Gabriel's Vineyard Songs (1892), where it appeared with a tune by Charles H. Gabriel (simply marked "C"), thus these words are probably by Gabriel. Gabriel credited the entire text to Luther and gave it the title "Cradle Song." This verse is sometimes attributed to Dr. John McFarland, but since the popular story dates his contribution to 1904 (postdating the 1892 printing by 12 years), his contribution is highly questionable.[7]

Murray's tune, which is the tune most commonly printed in the U.S., is typically given the name "Mueller."

The tune "Cradle Song" was written by William J. Kirkpatrick for the musical Around the World with Christmas (1895). Kirkpatrick, like others before him, attributed the words to Luther.

It is also sung to an adaptation of the melody originally composed in 1837 by Jonathan E. Spilman to Flow gently, sweet Afton.

The first 2 verses are the original "Away In A Manger," while the 3rd verse was originally just simply called the "Cradle Song." Somehow the "Cradle Song" ended up being the 3rd verse of "Away In A Manger" and the 1st 2 verses of "Away In A Manger" was added to the "Cradle Song." Then the "Cradle Song," with its own melody (Flow Gently, Sweet Afton), was eventually also called "Away In A Manger", with its "alternate melody."

Thus we ended up with 2 different melodies for "Away In A Manger!"

The Twelve Days of Christmas is an English Christmas carol that enumerates a series of increasingly grand gifts given on each of the twelve days of Christmas. Although first published in England in 1780, textual evidence may indicate the song is French in origin.

The earliest well-known performance of the song was by English scholar James O. Halliwell in 1842, and he published a version in 4th edition The Nursery Rhymes of England (1846), collected principally from 'oral tradition'.[3] The song had become traditional as early as the 16th century.

In the early 20th century, English composer Frederic Austin wrote an arrangement in which he added his melody from "Five gold rings" onwards,[4] which has since become standard. The copyright to this arrangement was registered in 1909 and is still active by its owners, Novello & Co. Limited.

The twelve days in the song are the twelve days starting Christmas day, or in some traditions, the day after Christmas (December 26) (Boxing Day or St. Stephen's Day, as being the feast day of St. Stephen Protomartyr) to the day before Epiphany, or the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6, or the Twelfth Day). Twelfth Night is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "the evening of the fifth of January, preceding Twelfth Day, the eve of the Epiphany, formerly the last day of the Christmas festivities and observed as a time of merrymaking."

Although the specific origins of the chant are not known, it possibly began as a Twelfth Night "memories-and-forfeits" game, in which a leader recited a verse, each of the players repeated the verse, the leader added another verse, and so on until one of the players made a mistake, with the player who erred having to pay a penalty, such as offering up a kiss or a sweet.[1] This is how the game is offered up in its earliest known printed version, in the children's book Mirth without Mischief (c. 1780) published in England, which 100 years later Lady Gomme, a collector of folktales and rhymes, described playing every Twelfth Day night before eating mince pies and twelfth cake.

The song apparently is older than the printed version, though it is not known how much older. Textual evidence indicates that the song was not English in origin, but French, though it is considered an English carol. Three French versions of the song are known. If the "partridge in a pear tree" of the English version is to be taken literally, then it seems as if the chant comes from France, since the red-legged (or French) partridge, which perches in trees more frequently than the native common (or grey) partridge, was not successfully introduced into England until about 1770.

See also the post on this blog "The Twelve Days of Christmas" dated 11/19/08.

Deck the Halls (original English title: "Deck the Hall") is a traditional Yuletide and New Years' carol. The "fa-la-la" refrains were probably originally played on the harp. The tune is Welsh dating back to the sixteenth century, and belongs to a winter carol, Nos Galan. In the eighteenth century Mozart used the tune to "Deck the Halls" for a violin and piano duet. The repeated "fa la la" is from medieval ballads and used in Nos Galan, the remaining lyrics are American in origin dating from the nineteenth century.

The tune is that of an old Welsh air, first found in a musical manuscript by Welsh harpist John Parry Ddall (c. 1710–1782), but undoubtedly much older than that. The composition is still popular as a dance tune in Wales, and was published in the 1784 and 1794 editions of the harpist Edward Jones's Musical and Poetical Relics of the Welsh Bards. Poet John Ceiriog Hughes wrote the first published lyrics for the piece in Welsh, titling it "Nos Galan" ("New Year's Eve"). A middle verse was later added by folk singers. In the eighteenth century the tune spread widely, with Mozart using it in a piano and violin concerto and, later, Haydn in the song "New Year's Night."

Originally, carols were dances and not songs. The accompanying tune would have been used as a setting for any verses of appropriate metre. Singers would compete with each other, verse for verse — known as canu penillion dull y De ("singing verses in the southern style"). The church actively opposed these folk dances. Consequently, tunes originally used to accompany carols became separated from the original dances, but were still referred to as "carols". The popular English lyrics for this carol are not a translation from the Welsh. The connection with dancing is made explicit in the English lyrics by the phrase "follow me in merry measure" as "measure" is a synonym for dance. A collection of such sixteenth and seventeenth century dances danced at the Inns of Court in London are called the Old Measures. Dancing itself having been previously suppressed by the church was revived during the renaissance beginning in fifteenth century Italy .

During the Victorian re-invention of Christmas it was turned into a traditional English Christmas song. The first English version appeared in The Franklin Square Song Collection, edited by J.P.McCaskey in 1881.

O Little Town of Bethlehem was written by Phillips Brooks (1835-1893), an Episcopal priest, Rector of the Church of the Holy Trinity, Philadelphia. Brooks was inspired when he was visiting the little town of Bethlehem in 1865. Three years later, he wrote the poem for his church and his organist, Lewis Redner, added the music. Redner's tune, simply titled "St. Louis", is the tune used most often for this carol in the United States. Meanwhile, the English tune "Forest Green", adapted by Ralph Vaughan Williams, is the tune most often used for this carol in the United Kingdom and sometimes in the U.S. as well, especially in the Episcopal Church.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is a song introduced by Judy Garland in the 1944 MGM musical Meet Me in St. Louis. Frank Sinatra later recorded a version with modified lyrics, which has become more common than the original. The song was credited to Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, although during a December 21, 2006 NPR interview, Martin said that Blane had encouraged him to write the song but had not had anything more to do with writing it. In 2007, ASCAP ranked "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" the third most performed Christmas song written by ASCAP members of the past five years.

The song was written while Martin was vacationing in a house in Birmingham, Alabama, that his father Hugh Martin designed for his mother as a honeymoon cottage. The house was located in the Southside section of the city, across the street from Hugh's mother and right beside her aunt. The song first appeared in a scene in Meet Me in St. Louis, in which a family is distraught by the father's plans to move to New York City for a job promotion, leaving behind their beloved home in St. Louis, Missouri just before the long-anticipated Louisiana Purchase Exposition begins. In a scene set on Christmas Eve, Judy Garland's character, Esther, sings the song to cheer up her despondent five-year-old sister, Tootie, played by Margaret O'Brien.

The sentimental setting of the tune in the finished scene owes much to the understated orchestration by Conrad Salinger and musical direction of Georgie Stoll.

However, when presented with the original draft, Garland, her co-star Tom Drake and director Vincente Minnelli criticized the song as depressing:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last,
Next year we may all be living in the past
Have yourself a merry little Christmas, pop that champagne cork,
Next year we will all be living in New York.

No good times like the olden days, happy golden days of yore,
Faithful friends who were dear to us, will be near to us no more.

But at least we all will be together, if the Fates allow,
From now on we'll have to muddle through somehow.
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

Though he initially resisted, songwriter Hugh Martin made several changes to make the song more upbeat. For example, the lines "It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past" became "Let your heart be light / Next year all our troubles will be out of sight". Garland's version of the song, which was also released as a single by Decca Records, became popular among United States troops serving in World War II; her performance at the Hollywood Canteen brought many soldiers to tears.

In 1957, Frank Sinatra asked Martin to revise the line "Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow". He told Martin, "The name of my album is A Jolly Christmas. Do you think you could jolly up that line for me?" Martin's new line, "Hang a shining star upon the highest bough," has since become more widely recognized and sung than the original phrase. Martin made several other alterations, changing the song's focus to a celebration of present happiness, rather than anticipation of a better future.

Although the 1957 rewrite is the most familiar to listeners today, the Judy Garland lyrics have been recorded by a number of artists, for example Ella Fitzgerald (in Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas), and James Taylor. Quiet Company recorded the song most recently for the 2007 release of Peace on Earth: A Holiday Album. The album was made available for download directly from the web. All proceeds from sales went to Toys for Tots charity. Greg London's success as a pop music artist began during the 2008 holiday season, when his rendition of the song debuted as the #2 most added track on FMQB’s AC40 Chart and Radio & Records Adult Contemporary chart during the same week.

What Child Is This? is a popular Christmas carol written in 1865. At the age of twenty-nine, English writer William Chatterton Dix was struck with a sudden near-fatal illness and confined to bedrest for several months, during which he went into a deep depression. Yet out of his near-death experience, Dix wrote many hymns, including "What Child is This?", later set to the traditional English tune "Greensleeves".

Good King Wenceslas is a popular Christmas carol about a king who goes out to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen (the second day of Christmas, December 26). During the journey, his page is about to give up the struggle against the cold weather, but is enabled to continue by the heat miraculously emanating from the king's footprints in the snow. The legend is based on the life of the historical Saint Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia (907–935), known in the Czech language as Svatý Václav.

The tune is based on a 13th century spring carol "Tempus adest floridum" ("It is time for flowering") first published in the 1582 Finnish song collection Piae Cantiones. The "Wenceslas" lyrics were written much later in 1853 by the English hymnwriter John Mason Neale (1818–1866) and substituted for the original Latin (to which they bear no relation) in collaboration with his music editor Thomas Helmore.

Wenceslas was considered a martyr and a saint immediately after his death, when a cult of Wenceslas grew up in Bohemia and in England. Within a few decades of Wenceslas's death four biographies of him were in circulation. These hagiographies had a powerful influence on the High Middle Ages conceptualization of the rex justus, or "righteous king"—that is, a monarch whose power stems mainly from his great piety, as well as from his princely vigor.

Referring approvingly to these hagiographies, the chronicler Cosmas of Prague, writing in about the year 1119, states:

But his deeds I think you know better than I could tell you; for, as is read in his Passion, no one doubts that, rising every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched.
Several centuries later the legend was claimed as fact by Pope Pius II, who himself also walked ten miles barefoot in the ice and snow as an act of pious thanksgiving.

Although Wenceslas was, during his lifetime, only a duke, Holy Roman Emperor Otto I posthumously "conferred on [Wenceslas] the regal dignity and title" and that is why, in the legend and song, he is referred to as a "king". The usual English spelling of Duke Wenceslas's name, Wenceslaus, is occasionally encountered in later textual variants of the carol, although it was not used by Neale in his version. Wenceslas is not to be confused with King Wenceslaus I of Bohemia, who lived over three centuries later.

Sleigh Ride is a popular light orchestral piece composed by Leroy Anderson. The composer had the original idea for the piece during a heat wave in July 1946; he finished the work in February 1948. Lyrics, about a person who would like to ride in a sleigh on a winter's day with another person, were written by Mitchell Parish in 1950. The orchestral version was first recorded in 1949 by Arthur Fiedler and The Boston Pops Orchestra. The song was a hit record on RCA Victor Red Seal 49-0515 (45 rpm) / 10-1484 (78 rpm), and has become the equivalent of a signature song for the orchestra. The 45 rpm version was originally issued on red vinyl. This original mono version has never been available on CD, although the later 1959 re-recording is available in stereo. The orchestra has also recorded the song with John Williams, their conductor from 1979 to 1995, and Keith Lockhart, their current conductor.

Leroy Anderson recorded his own version of "Sleigh Ride" in 1950 on Decca 9-16000 (45 rpm) / 16000 (78 rpm). This monaural version is available on CD as well as his 1959 stereo re-recording. This recording hit the Cashbox magazine best sellers chart when re-released in 1952.

Although "Sleigh Ride" is often associated with Christmas, and often appears on Christmas compilation albums, the song's lyrics never specifically mention any holiday or religion (apart from certain recordings, such as those by the Carpenters, Walter Schumann and Air Supply, that substitute "Christmas party" for "birthday party" in the song's bridge). In fact, the mention of "pumpkin pie" in the last verse might suggest an association with Thanksgiving rather than Christmas.

According to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers [ASCAP] review of Christmas music, "Sleigh Ride" consistently ranks in the top 10 list of most performed songs written by ASCAP members during the Christmas season worldwide.

According to author Steve Metcalf in the book Leroy Anderson: A Bio-Bibliography [Praeger 2004], "Sleigh Ride" ... has been performed and recorded by a wider array of musical artists than any other piece in the history of Western music."

Oh Holy Night - In 1847 Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure wrote the lyrics to "O Holy Night" as he imagined witnessing the birth of the Savior. The hymn was immediately popular, but deemed unfit for church services after it was discovered he left his parish and his friend who composed the music was Jewish. However, the French continued to sing it in their homes. After its English translation, the hymn became widely accepted in the U.S. and was the first song ever broadcast over radio. It soon took its place among the most beloved of Christmas hymns.

More to come...

No comments:

Christmas Trivia: True or False?

The answers to the following can be found within the various posts on this blog...

Holiday Names and Greetings

1. “X-mas” is an irreverent, non-Christian name for the holiday.

2. “Noel” comes from Old French, meaning “new birth”.

3. “Yule” comes from an ancient Viking celebration of the turning of the sun.

4. “Feliz Navidad” directly translated into English means “Happy Birth”.

5. “Mele Kalikimaka” is Hawaiian for “enjoy the holiday feast”.

The Nativity of Jesus

6. Modern calendar years are based on the verified year of the birth of Christ.

7. The number of visitors, known as Magi, Wise Men or Kings, was three.

8. The Wise Men, or Kings, came to see the newborn baby lying in the manger.

9. Early Christians believed Christ was born on December 25th.

10. Shepherds watched their flocks on the cold winter’s night of Christ’s birth.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

11. The Twelve Days of Christmas begin on December 13th.

12. The gifts given on each day in the song represent items at a Christmas party.

13. The “Two Turtle Doves” represented the Old and New Testaments.

14. The last two gifts were 11 lords a leaping and 12 drummers drumming.

Santa Claus

15. St. Nicholas, who preceded Santa Claus, was born in Germany in 1622.

16. Santa’s flying sleigh and reindeer originated from stories in the 1800’s.

17. Although he’s known by many names in many places, Santa is always a man.

18. Kris Kringle was the name of an early Dutch Santa Claus figure.

19. Santa Claus is largely unknown in places like Japan and China.


20. Rudolph’s story was a promotional creation of Montgomery Ward stores.

21. Blixen is the name of Santa’s eighth reindeer.

22. Donner, the seventh reindeer, is sometimes incorrectly called Donder.

23. The reindeer were first named in “Twas the Night Before Christmas”.

24. Instead of reindeer, in Sweden, a goat pulls Santa’s (Tomten’s) sled.

Christmas Trees

25. The custom of decorating trees for Christmas originated in Germany.

26. Before the 1500’s, Christmas trees were considered a pagan custom.

27. Martin Luther is credited with first putting candles, or lights, on the tree.

28. There is no mention of a Christmas tree in Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol.”

29. Hanging the tree upside down from the ceiling used to be popular.


30. The first Christmas card was created and sent in London in 1840.

31. The most popular selling Christmas Carol of all time is “Silent Night”.

32. Mistletoe used to be hung for enemies to meet under and call a truce.

33. Poinsettias were first brought to the U.S. from Mexico by Mr. Poinsett.

34. Christmas mince pie contained rabbit, pheasant and partridge meat.

35. “Nog” in eggnog refers to a heavy noggin (head) from drinking too much.

36. The tradition of filling stockings originated in the country of Turkey.

37. Sleigh rides with jingle bells is a favorite Christmas activity in Australia.

38. Celebrating Christmas was once outlawed in Merry Olde England.

39. Candy canes were created to keep children quiet during church services.

40. Swedish Christmas celebrates St. Lucia, who helped needy people in Italy.


1. False. “X” comes from the Greek letter that start’s Christ’s name and represents Christ.
2. True. Oui, oui. Noel is tres French, an old word which is related to the nouvelle, meaning “new”.
3. True. The word “yule” is old Norse for wheel, meaning the wheel in the sky that turns to give more light.
4. True. “Feliz” means “happy”. “Navidad” translates to nativity, which also means birth.
5. False. It means nothing in Hawaiian. It is an attempt to spell English “Merry Christmas” using Hawaiian letters.
6. False. There is no historical verification to the year of Christ’s birth. Some scholars believe it was in 2 to 4 B.C.
7. False. Three gifts are mentioned, but no number of the visitors is given. Some believe there were 12 or more.
8. False. They arrived well after Christ was born, and most likely saw him inside a home in a regular bed.
9. False. No exact date was known. When Romans became Christian, the Dec. 25th date replaced a pagan holiday.
10. False. Shepherds were not in the fields with their flocks during winter. This most likely occurred in the spring.
11. False. They start on Christmas Day, Dec. 25th, and last until Jan. 6th, the Eastern Orthodox Christmas Day.
12. True. In Old England, a party was held on “12th Night”. All the gifts were represented through food or fun.
13. True. The gifts and numbers were created to represent / disguise gospel principles for early persecuted believers.
14. False. There are 10 lords a leaping, not 11. Correct answer: 11 pipers piping, 12 drummers drumming.
15. False. St. Nicholas was born in Asia Minor, now known as Turkey, sometime during the 3rd Century.
16. False. The idea originated from early legends of Viking gods flying through the skies on animal-pulled sleighs.
17. False. In Italy, the gift giver is an old woman known as La Befana. In parts of Russia, she is known as Babushka.
18. False. Kris Kringle is an Americanization of the German gift giver “Christ-kindl”, or “Christ Child”.
19. False. Santa Claus has become a popular holiday figure in both Japan and China, not necessarily for Christmas.
20. True. It was a 1939 promotional gimmick given to those who did Christmas shopping at Montgomery Ward.
21. False. The name of the eighth reindeer is spelled Blitzen, not Blixen.
22. False. The original text of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” spells the seventh reindeer’s name as Donder.
23. True. “Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Clement C. Moore was the first text that named the eight reindeer.
24. True. Although many reindeer are in Northern Sweden, Tomten rides a sled through the forest pulled by a goat.
25. False. The Germans adapted modern tree traditions from customs of the ancient Romans and Celtic druids.
26. False. 7th Century Catholic monk St. Boniface used the indoor evergreen’s triangle shape to teach of the Godhead.
27. True. Legend claims Martin Luther first put candles on his tree, to represent the light of Christ for his children.
28. True. Christmas trees did not become popular in England until after Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol”.
29. True. Many trees were originally hung upside down in Old Europe and in early Pennsylvania settlements.
30. True. John C. Horsley created his own card in 1840. The idea caught on, and his card was re-printed in 1843.
31. False. Although “Silent Night” is popular in many countries, Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” is the top seller.
32. True. Used for many things, mistletoe brought people together, including those who needed to kiss and make-up.
33. True. Joel Roberts Poinsett, Ambassador to Mexico, introduced the “Holy Night Flowers” to the U.S. in 1825.
34. True. Originally, mince pie was a meat pie. Fruits and spices were later added, and then the meat was dropped.
35. False. “Nog” is another term for “grog”, which is a rum-based drink. Eggnog is sometimes served with rum.
36. True. St. Nicholas, who lived in Turkey, is claimed to have assisted the needy by leaving gold coins in stockings.
37. False. Christmas in Australia occurs during summertime. A beach barbecue is a popular Christmas Day event.
38. True. From 1645 to 1660, because of Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans, celebrating Christmas was illegal.
39. True. A Cologne Cathedral Choirmaster gave shepherds crook-shaped candy to kids during long nativity services.
40. True. Though celebrated in Sweden, Lucia’s legend began with her Christian services and martyrdom in Italy.

Correct Answers Rating:
40 - Cheater, you peeked! Not even Santa knew all of these.
35 to 39 - Next in line to be Santa. How’s your “ho, ho, ho”?
30 to 34 - A true Christmas elf. Santa’s looking to promote you.
25 to 29 - On Santa’s Nice List, but you could do better.
20 to 24 - Rockin’ around the Christmas tree, but you’re missing some good stuff.
15 to 19 - You like Christmas, but your favorite holiday is Halloween, right?
10 to 14 - Christmas is coming, and you haven’t got a ha’penny. God bless you.
Less than 10 - Bah humbug. You need to pay more attention if you want more than coal in your stocking. Better watch out or you’ll get run over by a reindeer.