“But I am sure that I have always
thought of Christmas time, when it
has come round… as a good time; a
kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant
time; the only time I know of, in the
long calendar of the year, when men
and women seem by one consent to
open their shut-up hearts freely.
From A Christmas Carol
by Charles Dickens
The Birth of Jesus
The main part of the Christmas Story is the birth of Jesus. But why was Jesus born in such unusual suroundings?
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while
Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
The History behind the story
The census that was ordered by Caesar Augustus was the first of its kind. It was done because the Roman government wanted to make sure that everyone in the Empire was paying their taxes correctly. The census was carried out all over the Empire (most of Europe): but in Palestine, it was carried out in a Jewish way rather than a Roman way. This meant that families had to register in their historical tribal town rather than where they lived. This also meant that Joseph and the very pregnant Mary would have had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, as this was town that Joseph’s family (the royal family of David) originally came from – a journey of about 70 miles (112 kilometres). It might have been quite good for the family to go to Bethlehem as no one there knew them, so people would not have talked about the fact that they were not married. The journey would have taken about three days and they might well have arrived in the evening, because if they had arrived earlier in the day, it is more likely that they would have found somewhere to stay. In those times, there weren’t really such things as hotels or inns, you normally would have stayed with some extended family. Most houses would have been shared with the animals that the family kept. People slept on an upper level and the animals lived on the ground floor and were used as an early kind of ‘central heating’!
As many people would have traveled to Bethlehem for the census, all the houses, or certainly upper levels were full. So Joseph and Mary had to sleep with the animals, either in a very crowded and smelly lower level of a house or out in a stable, cave or even a covered market stall that sold animals. It was the custom in those times to wrap a new born baby very tightly in long bandages called swaddling clothes. The arms and legs of the baby were also wrapped, so they couldn’t move. This was done because they thought it helped the baby to grow strong, straight limbs. And as no proper crib was available, the new baby boy was placed in a manger, or feeding trough. This must have been an amazing scene, but was exactly how the angels had described things to the shepherds up on the hills surrounding Bethlehem! The birth of Jesus probably didn’t happen in the year 0 but slightly earlier, in about 5, 6 or 7 BC. The dates that we use now were set by monks and religious leaders in the Middle Ages and before. It’s also quite likely that Jesus was actually born in the spring, not in the winter! It can get very cold in the winter in Israel and it is thought that the census would have most likely taken place during the spring, at the time of the Jewish Passover festival (which normally takes during March or April) when many pilgrims, from all over the country came to visit Jerusalem (which is about six miles from Bethlehem). Also during the winter, it’s less likely that the shepherds would have been keeping sheep out on the hills (as those hills can get quite a lot of snow sometimes!); but lots of lambs would have been needed during the Passover Festival, to be sacrificed in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.
A nativity scene or crèche (also known as a manger scene, or crib) is a depiction of the birth of Jesus as described in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. While the term “nativity scene” typically includes two dimensional depictions in film, painting, printmaking, and other media, in the history of art and culture, as well as in popular use, the term refers to static, three dimensional, artistic, commercial or folk art dioramas, or pantomimes called “living nativity scenes” in which real humans and animals participate. Nativity scenes exhibit figures representing the infant Jesus, his mother Mary, and Joseph. Other characters from the nativity story such as shepherds, the Magi, and angels may be displayed near the manger in a barn (or cave) intended to accommodate farm animals. A donkey and an ox are typically depicted in the scene, as well as camels belonging to the Magi. Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first nativity scene in 1223 (a “living” one) intending thereby to cultivate the worship of Christ, having been inspired by his recent visit to the Holy Land where he had been shown Jesus’s traditional birthplace. The scene’s popularity inspired communities throughout Catholic countries to stage similar pantomimes. Distinctive nativity scenes and traditions have been created around the world and are displayed during the Christmas season in churches, homes, shopping malls, and other venues, and occasionally on public lands and in public buildings. In the United States, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City annually displays a Neapolitan Baroque nativity scene before a blue spruce. Nativity scenes have not escaped controversy. In the United States, nativity scenes on public lands and in public buildings have provoked court challenges.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.’ When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
The History behind the Story
After Jesus was born, Wise Men came to look for Him, probably from an area which is now in either Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia or the Yemen. Although they are often called the ‘Three Kings’, the Bible does not say how many there were, or that they were kings. One theory is that they might have been Kings of the Yemen, as during this time the Kings of Yemen were Jews. Three is only a guess because they brought with them three gifts: but however many there were of them, they probably would have had many more servants with them. They were certainly men of great learning. The word Magi comes from the greek word ‘magos’ (where the english word ‘magic’ comes from). Magos itself comes from the old persian word ‘magupati’. This was the title given to priests in a sect of the ancient persian religions such as Zoroastrianism. Today we’d called them astrologers. Back then astronomy and astrology were part of the same overall studies (and ‘science’) and went hand in hand with each other. The magi would have followed the patterns of the stars religiously. They would have also probably been very rich and held high esteem in their own society and by people who weren’t from their country or religion. They had seen an unusual new star in the sky, and knew that it told of the birth of a special king. No one really knows what the new star is the sky was, and there are many theories, including comets, supernovas, a conjunctions of planets, or something supernatural! Herod asked the Wise Men to find Jesus and tell him where he was, not so he could go and worship him as he said, but so he could kill him! He thought that Jesus sounded like a new King that could come and take his power away. When the Wise Men found Jesus and Mary, they would have been living in a normal house in Bethlehem, because by this time Jesus would have been aged between one and two. Then they gave their gifts to him. The gifts are also all things that come from the east of Israel in Arabia. When they were about to go to tell Herod where Jesus was, they were warned in a dream not to, so Herod could not carry out his horrible plan.
The gifts seem quite strange to give to a baby, but Christians believe that they had the following meanings: Gold: is associated with Kings and Christians believe that Jesus is the King of Kings. Frankincense: is sometimes used in worship in Churches and showed that people worshipped the child Jesus. Myrrh: is a perfume that is put on dead bodies to make them smell nice and showed that Jesus would suffer and die. Legends are told about Wise Men and they have been given names. This is how they are often described: Gaspar, who has brown hair and a brown beard (or no beard!) and wears a green cloak and a gold crown with green jewels on it. He is the King of Sheba. Gaspar represents the Frankincense brought to Jesus. Melchior, who has long white hair and a white beard and wears a gold cloak. He is the King of Arabia. Melchior represents the Gold brought to Jesus. Balthazar, who has black skin and a black beard (or no beard!) and wears a purple cloak. He is the King of Tarse and Egypt. Balthazar represents the gift of Myrrh that was brought to Jesus.
Cool Christmas Facts
On Christmas morning since medieval times, church bells have been rung to announce to the world the coming of the savior. It was customary from the 18th century to wear clothes and carry a small bell to signify the birth of Christ. The ringing of the bells was to signify the importance of His Birth.
An artificial spider and web are often included in the decorations on Ukrainian Christmas trees. A spider web found on Christmas morning is believed to bring good luck.
The tradition of gifts seems to have started with the gifts that the wise
men brought to Jesus. The exchanging of gifts between people started
about the 1800’s.
December 25th was not celebrated as the birthday of Christ until the year
AD 440 because according to some experts, Jesus’ birthday must have been on April 5 BC.
In 1647, the English parliament passed a law that made Christmas illegal. Christmas festivities were banned by Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell, who considered feasting and revelry on what was supposed to be a holy day to be immoral. Anybody caught celebrating Christmas was arrested. The ban was lifted only when the Puritans lost power in 1660.
It’s hard to imagine but for almost two decades of the 17th century Christmas was illegal in what would become the United States (as we
have established, the Puritans thought it to be too merry). In fact, it wasn’t even until 1870 that Christmas became a federal holiday in America.
The popular Christmas song “Jingle Bells” was composed in 1857 by
James Pierpont, and was originally called “One-Horse Open Sleigh.” It
was actually written for Thanksgiving, not Xmas.
The biggest selling Christmas single of all time is Bing Crosby’s White Christmas.
An old wives’ tale says that bread baked on Christmas Eve will never go mouldy. If this was true, then bakeries would just have to make all their bread on Christmas Eve and they will never have to put best before dates ever again!
Christmas pudding was first made as a kind of soup with raisins and wine
in it. Christmas Pudding originates from an old, Celtic dish known as ‘frumenty’.
Each year between 34–36 million Christmas trees are produced to cope
with the holiday demand.
Early Christmas trees were decorated with fruits, flowers and candles,
which were heavy on the tree branches. In the 1800′s German glass
blowers began producing glass balls to replace the heavy decorations
and called them bulbs.
Things About Chirstmas
Literally meaning “dung twig”, mistletoe is named after the fact that it tends to spring out of bird droppings on trees after the seeds have passed through the bird’s digestive tract. Not only this but it can also be very parasitic, often requiring a host tree in order to sustain itself. So, next time you kiss your significant other beneath the mistletoe, remember, you’re standing beneath a parasitic poop twig.
Although evergreens have been long held in high regard by many cultures due to their perpetual greenness, it is the 16th-century German Christians that get credit for first bringing decorated trees into their homes. It is a widely held belief that Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, was inspired to first include candles as a decoration when he noticed the stars shining through the evergreens one night.
According to Facebook, around two weeks before Christmas is one of the most popular times of the year for couples to break up. Christmas itself, however, is one of the least likely days for a breakup. Evidently it’s a lot easier to open presents than it is to buy them.
THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS
Next time you get a chance to listen to the 12 Days of Christmas try to count all of gifts that are exchanged. If you do it right you’ll notice that there are 364 in total, one for each day of the year. Were you to put all of these gifts under the tree it would cost you $18,348.87 – according to PNC Financial Services.
As ubiquitous as it is today, before 1224 there was no such thing as a nativity scene. Upon returning from Israel St. Francis of Assisi was inspired to re-create the birth of Jesus with live animals and actors. During that first display, the manger was also used as an altar for Christmas Mass. From there, the nativity caught on like wildfire.
Also known as Santa Claus, St. Nick is based on the early Church Bishop Saint Nicholas who was born around 270AD in the small Turkish village of Patara. He was known for being especially generous to the poor and his legend has since led to many different variants of St. Nick across cultures and time periods.
ST. NICK AND THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN
So where did the image of Santa Claus silhouetted against the moon in a sleigh being pulled by reindeer come from? From the same guy that brought us the headless horseman, Washington Irving. In an 1819 series of shorts titled The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon he wrote about a dream where St. Nick was flying across the sky in a weightless wagon.
CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914
On the morning of December 25th, 1914, German soldiers on the western front stepped out of their trenches and walked towards Allied troops calling out “Merry Christmas” in English. What followed was one of the greatest expressions of camaraderie in history. Soldiers mingled, exchanged cigarettes, and even played a game of football. The event was dramatized in the film Joyeux Noel.
TRAFALGAR SQUARE CHRISTMAS TREE
Every year since 1947 Oslo has sent a Christmas tree to London as an expression of gratitude for the United Kingdom’s help in World War II.
UPSIDE DOWN CHRISTMAS TREES
Originally only used in department stores to increase floor space, consumers (as usual) decided they like the idea and took it home with them. It’s not the first time in history that people have decorated with inverted Christmas Trees, however. As early as the 12th century, Central Europeans would hang trees from the ceiling to represent the Holy Trinity.
WORLD WAR II
It seems like every year the holiday season gets extended and today some stores even start getting ready for Christmas before Halloween. Although much of this can be attributed to commercialization, it was during World War II that the season really got elongated when families had to send gifts to the troops early in order for them to arrive on time.
Every year in the United States about 20,000 Rent-a-Santas are hired. Evidently, however, it isn’t the easiest job in the world. These Santas undergo training on how to cope with pressure from the public, how to deal with rowdy children, and even what not to eat to avoid having bad breath.
According to UNICEF, there are 2,106 million children under the age of 18 in the world. If you do the math it works out to about 842 million stops that Santa would have to make on Christmas Eve, meaning he would have to travel about 221 million miles total. In order to reach every stop that night he would need to go from house to house in less than 1/5,000 of a second, requiring an acceleration of 12.19 million miles per second every time. Seems like Santa belongs on our list of 25 most powerful superheroes of all time.
A popular abbreviation for Christmas, the X represents the Greek letter Chi, or the first letter of the word “Christ”. During the 16th Century, European Christians began using the Chi as a symbolic abbreviation for Christmas just as the Chi-Rho had often been used a symbolic abbreviation for Christ. Although in former centuries this association was understood, in recent times this has led to misunderstanding and controversy.
THE SANTA CAUSE
Every year North Pole, Alaska gets hundreds of thousands of letters from children all over the world. Volunteers from the small town of 1,600 make an effort to reply to every letter that has a return address.
THE STATUE OF LIBERTY
In 1886 the United States became the recipient of the largest Christmas present in history when France presented it with the Statue of Liberty – 225 tons and 46.5 meters high.
FELIZ NAVIDAD AROUND THE WORLD
Christmas traditions vary from culture to culture. Finns often visit saunas on Christmas Eve, while Portuguese revelers hold a feast on Christmas Day for the living and the dead (extra places are set for the souls of the deceased). In Greece, some believe that goblins called kallikantzeri run wild during the 12 days of Christmas, and most Greeks don’t exchange presents until Jan. 1, St. Basil’s Day. Thanks to their geographic location, most Australians and New Zealanders enjoy Christmas on the beach or at barbecues. Spain, meanwhile, hosts the world’s largest lottery.
Kissing under the mistletoe possibly began in old England. One theory is that the Druids started it all. They believed the mistletoe was sacred and therefore a charm against evil. They used golden sickles to harvest it and, to keep it from touching the ground, caught it in the folds of their priestly garments. Another theory is that the custom was started by the Scandinavians, who considered mistletoe to be a symbol of peace. When enemies chanced to meet under it, so the story goes, they would be required to declare a truce for the day and seal it with a kiss of peace. The origin of hanging Christmas stockings comes to us from southern Europe. One legend says that an old man was in despair because he had no money for his daughter’s dowries. St. Nicholas dropped a bag of gold down the chimney, which happened to fall into a stocking hung up to dry. French peasants believed that babies who come into the world on Christmas are born with the gift of prophecy. During the Christmas buying season, Visa cards alone are used an average of 5,340 times every minute in the United States. In America, the weeks leading up to Christmas are the biggest shopping weeks of the year. Many retailers make up to 70% of their annual revenue in the month preceding Christmas. More diamonds are purchased at Christmastime (31 percent) than during any other holiday or occasion during the year. Some priests in Australia advise you to say “Happy Christmas”, not “Merry Christmas”, because Merry has a connotation of getting drunk – which brings its own problems. One should say “Happy” instead.
Carols were first sung in Europe thousands of years ago, but these were not Christmas Carols. They were pagan songs, sung at the Winter Solstice celebrations as people danced round stone circles. The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, usually taking place around the 22nd December. The word “carol” actually means dance or a song of praise and joy. Carols used to be written and sung during all four seasons, but only the tradition of singing them at Christmas has really survived.
Early Christians took over the pagan solstice celebrations for Christmas and gave people Christian songs to sing instead of pagan ones. In 129 AD, a Roman Bishop said that a song called ‘Angel’s Hymn’ should be sung at a Christmas service in Rome.
Another famous early Christmas Hymn was written in 760 AD by Comas of Jerusalem for the Greek Orthodox Church. Soon after this many composers all over Europe started to write carols. However, not many people liked them as they were all written and sung in Latin, a language that the normal people couldn’t understand. By the time of the Middles Ages (the 1200s), most people had lost interest in celebrating Christmas altogether.
This was changed by St. Francis of Assisi when, in 1223, he started his Nativity Plays in Italy. The people in the plays sang songs or ‘canticles’ that told the story during the plays. Sometimes, the choruses of these new carols were in Latin; but normally they were all in a language that the people watching the play could understand and join in! The new carols spread to France, Spain, Germany and other European countries.
The earliest carol, like this, was written in 1410. Sadly only a very small fragment of it still exists. The carol was about Mary and Jesus meeting different people in Bethlehem. Most Carols from this time and the Elizabethan period are untrue stories, very loosely based on the Christmas story, about the holy family and were seen as entertaining rather than religious songs. They were usually sung in homes rather than in churches! Traveling singers or minstrels started singing these carols and the words were changed for the local people wherever they were traveling. One carol that changed like this is ‘I Saw Three Ships’.
When Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans came to power in England in 1647, the celebration of Christmas and singing carols was stopped. However, the carols survived as people still sang them in secret. Carols remained mainly unsung until Victorian times, when two men called William Sandys and Davis Gilbert collected lots of old Christmas music from villages in England. Before carol singing in public became popular, there were sometimes official carol singers called ‘Waits’. These were bands of people led by important local leaders (such as council leaders) who had the only power in the towns and villages to take money from the public (if others did this, they were sometimes charged as beggars!). They were called ‘Waits’ because they only sang on Christmas Eve (This was sometimes known as ‘watchnight’ or ‘waitnight’ because of the shepherds were watching their sheep when the angels appeared to them.), when the
Christmas celebrations began. Also, at this time, many orchestras and choirs were being set up in the cities of England and people wanted Christmas songs to sing, so carols once again became popular. Many new carols, such as ‘Good King Wenceslas’, were also written.
New carols services were created and became popular, as did the custom of singing carols in the streets. Both of these customs are still popular today! One of the most popular types of Carols services are Carols by Candlelight services. At this service, the church is only lit by candlelight and it feels very Christmassy! Carols by Candlelight services are held in countries all over the world.
What are Christmas Carols?
Christmas carols are special songs which are sung during the Christmas season. The songs are about Jesus and the time when he was born. What does the word ‘carol’ mean? The word carol comes from the ancient Greek ‘choros’, which means “dancing in a circle,” and from the Old French word carole, meaning “a song to accompany dancing”. Over the years, the word ‘carol’ changed its meaning, referring only to certain kinds of songs, the word carol became known as Christmas songs.
Why were Christmas Carols written?
Many Christmas carols were written for a special purpose, often to accompany performances of religious dramas dating from medieval times. In the Middle Ages, carols were dances accompanied by singing. It is thought that these dances were introduced to England from France.
What is Carol Singing?
Carol singing, or Caroling, is singing carols in the street or public places. It is one of the oldest customs in Great Britain, going back to the Middle Ages when beggars, seeking food, money, or drink, would wander the streets singing holiday songs. People today still go carol singing. People go from house to house singing carols and collecting money for charity. The traditional period to sing carols is from St Thomas’s Day (21 December) until the morning of Christmas Day.
Christmas Carols were once banned.
Christmas carols were banned between 1647 and 1660 in England by Oliver Cromwell, who thought that Christmas should be a solemn day. The tradition of carol singers going from door to door came about because they were banned from churches in the Middle Ages.
The Biggest Selling Christmas Carol.
“White Christmas” by Irving Berlin is the biggest-selling Christmas song of all time. It is estimated to have sold approximately 350 million copies on record and sheet music.
Other Christmas Carols and when they were composed.
1843 – O Come all ye Faithful
1848 – Once in Royal David’s City
1851 – See Amid the Winters Snow
1868 – O Little Town of Bethlehem
1883 – Away in a Manger
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know Where the treetops glisten and children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow The words and melody of this Christmas ballad was written by Irving Berlin in 1940. The song was used in a movie starring Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire and Marjorie Reynolds titled “Holiday Inn.” “White Christmas” actually made its debut via Bing Crosby in 1941 on the NBC radio show “Kraft Music Hall.” Crosby then recorded the song for Decca in May 1942 and by August of the same year, “Holiday Inn” was released. The song became a huge hit and by the end of October 1942, was on top of the charts. It alao received an Oscar for Best Song in 1942. Interesting Fact: Following the success of “White Christmas” came a movie in 1954 with the same title starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney. “White Christmas” remains one of the most popular and best-selling Christmas songs ever written. Many versions of this song has since been recorded, but Crosby’s rendition remains a favorite.
Silent night, Holy night All is calm, all is bright ‘Round yon virgin Mother and Child Holy infant so tender and mild Sleep in heavenly peace Sleep in heavenly peace The carol Silent Night was written in 1818, by an Austrian priest Joseph Mohr. He was told the day before Christmas that the church organ was broken and would not be repaired in time for Christmas Eve. He was saddened by this and could not think of Christmas without music, so he wanted to write a carol that could be sung by choir to guitar music. He sat down and wrote three stanzas. Later that night the people in the little Austrian Church sang “Stille Nacht” for the first time. Interesting Fact: The first instrument on which the carol “Silent Night” was played was a guitar.
HARK THE HERALD ANGELS SING
Hark the herald angels sing “Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild God and sinners reconciled” Joyful, all ye nations rise Join the triumph of the skies With the angelic host proclaim:“Christ is born in Bethlehem” Hark! The herald angels sing “Glory to the newborn King!” The author is Charles Wesley (1707–1788), younger brother of John Wesley. Charles was a hymn writer and a poet, also known as one of the poeple who began the Methodist movement in the Church of England. The song appeared in 1739 in a book called Hymns and Sacred Poems. Interesting Fact: To celebrate the invention of the printing press, Felix Mendelssohn composed a cantata in 1840 called Festgesang or “Festival Song”. The melody of Mendelssohn’s cantata was then used by William H. Cummings and adapted it to the lyrics of Wesley’s “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”.
‘Jingle Bells’ Origin fuels holiday controversy
There’s not much that evokes the holidays more than the song “Jingle Bells,” with its catchy tune and classic imagery of a sleigh gliding through a wintry landscape.
So where did this quintessential holiday song come from?
As it turns out, “Jingle Bells” is the source of a long-simmering controversy that involves two U.S. cities and a man named James Lord Pierpont. One of those cities is Medford, Massachusetts.
James Pierpont was born in Boston in 1822 and was the son of the well-known writer and pastor John Pierpont. He is just one of a handful of famous people connected to Medford.
“So we’ve got Fannie Farmer of the famous Fannie Farmer cookbook. We’ve got Lydia Maria Child, who was an abolitionist. We’ve got Mayor Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York,” Kyna Hamill, co-president of the Medford Historical Society, explained.
And then there is James Pierpont. By some accounts Pierpont was a rebellious, musically minded wanderer who enjoyed the spotlight. Others were not so kind in their descriptions. In a 1994 article in the Medford Citizen he is described by unnamed local historians as a “complete loser.”
Still, among the Medford faithful, Pierpont is a much-loved native son. And why? The answer is on a plaque at 19 High St. that reads:
“Jingle Bells” composed here. On this site stood the Simpson Tavern where in 1850 James Pierpont wrote the song “Jingle Bells” in the presence of Mrs. Otis Waterman, who later verified the song was written here.
An official plaque, a precise location, a corroborating witness. That sounds like an air-tight claim to history. But here is where things get sticky.
A few years after apparently giving life to “Jingle Bells” at Medford’s Simpson Tavern, Pierpont moved to Savannah, Ga., where he lived until his death in 1893. It was while in Savannah that Pierpont officially published the song under the title “One Horse Open Sleigh,” which was later changed to “Jingle Bells.”
That fact, of course, stands in the way of Medford’s exclusive claim to the song.
Hamill pulls a manila folder from her “Pierpont file” at the Medford Historical Society. The folder is labeled “Savannah-Generated James Pierpont Information – BEWARE.”
“So this is the anti-Medford Pierpont file. But our claim is of course that the landscape is, that the authenticity is that it’s in the landscape of Medford,” Hamill explained. “My answer to that is show me the body. If you’ve got the body, I’ll let you make that claim.”
Savannah native Hugh Golson is a retired high school teacher-turned-local historian. He claims that because Pierpont published “Jingle Bells” from Savannah, the song belongs firmly in Savannah’s history books.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got his mortal remains in our cemetery here,” Golson said. “So we’ve got the claim of his DNA in the soil. And he might have had some ditty going in his head, but he never cleaned it up, got it in suitable form to mail in to the publishers until 1857.”
There, in Savannah, you can also find a similar plaque claiming the song’s origins.
So, who comes out on top? Well, no one really. There’s no holiday throwdown. No jingle playoff. No victory lap in the horse-drawn sleigh.
Interesting Fact: On December 16, 1965, astronauts aboard Gemini 6, Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford, played a prank on Mission Control. They said they saw some kind of UFO stating that the pilot was “wearing a red suit.” They then played “Jingle Bells” on a harmonica (Hohner’s Little Lady model) backed by sleigh bells. Both instruments are now on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and considered the first musical instruments played in space.
The Colors of Christmas
There are several colors which are traditionally associated with Christmas – what do the colors represent? Most of the colors and their meanings come from the Western/Northern European traditions and customs when Christmas is in the middle of winter and it’s dark and cold.
Evergreen plants, like Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe have been used for thousands of years to decorate and brighten up buildings during the long dark winter. They also reminded people that spring would come and that winter wouldn’t last forever! The Romans would exchange evergreen branches during January as a sign of good luck. The ancient Egyptians used to bring palm branches into their houses during the mid-winter festivals. In many parts of Europe during the Middle Ages, Paradise Plays were performed, often on Christmas Eve. They told Bible stories to people who couldn’t read. The ‘Paradise Tree’ in the garden of Eden in the play was normally a pine tree with red apples
tied to it. Now the most common use of green at Christmas are Christmas Trees.
As mentioned above, an early use of red at Christmas were the apples on the paradise tree. They represented the fall of Adam in the plays. Red is also the color of Holly berries, which is said to represent the blood of Jesus when he died on the cross. Red is also the color of Bishops robes. These would have been worn by St. Nicholas and then also became Santa’s uniform!
Gold is the color of the Sun and light – both very important in the dark winter. It’s also the color of fire that you need to keep you warm. Gold was also one of the presents brought to the baby Jesus by one of the wise men and traditionally is the color used to show the star that the wise men followed. Silver is sometimes used instead of (or with) gold. But gold is a ‘warmer’ color.
White is often associated with purity and peace in Western cultures. The snow of winter is also very white! White paper wafers were also sometimes used to decorate paradise trees. The wafers represented the bread eaten during Christian Communion or Mass, when Christians remember that Jesus died for them. White is used by most churches as the color of Christmas, when the altar is covered with a white cloth (in the Russian Orthodox Church gold is used for Christmas).
The color blue is often associated with Mary, the mother of Jesus. In medieval times blue dye and paint was more expensive than gold! So it would only be worn by Royal families and very rich people. Mary was often painted wearing blue to show she was very important. Blue can also represent the color of the sky and heaven. During Advent, purple and sometimes blue is used in most churches for the colour of the altar cloth (in the Russian Orthodox Church red is used for advent).
Santa Claus All Over The World
The present-day Christmas traditions are said to have their origin the Victorian period during 1860s. Santa Claus or Father Christmas has many forms around the world that have different personalities, different duties and dresses. Here we are going to discuss some of the characters that play the Christmas angels and can be said similar to our beloved Santa Claus all over the world. In Sweden and other Scandinavian countries, St. Lucia is believed to mark the beginning of the Christmas festivities and is also known as St. Lucy or ‘Little Yule’. On this day, the oldest daughter in each family rises early and dresses up in a long white gown with a red sash and a crown made of twigs with nine lighted candles on top. She is known as ‘Lussi’ for the day and has duty to wake up each family member dressed in this manner. The Finnish, too, choose a girl annually to be the national Lucia and she parades surrounded by torchbearers as the name Lucia, derived from the Latin word ‘lux’ means ‘Light’. It is said that on St. Lucia Day, the sun’s rays again start to strengthen. According to the legend, Lucia is the patron saint of the blind. She lived in Syracuse in the 4th century when Christians were persecuted for their beliefs. Though not much is known about her, it is said that she lost her sight because of a Diocletian tortured her much for following Christianity. Other version of the story says that she plucked out her own eyes, as she could not bear to see Christians being tortured so cruelly anymore. Scandinavian children leave their shoes on the hearth for Saint Nicholas to fill them with treats while American children, who known him as Santa Clause hang stockings on their bedpost or near a fireplace on Christmas Eve in the hope of getting gifts from him. The popularity of St. Nicholas reached America in the 18th century with the Dutch families, who knew him as ‘Sinter Klaas’, which later got transformed to ‘Santa Claus’. He used to wear a broadrimmed hat then with a huge Flemish trunk hose. Later, he turned into a joker with a blue three-cornered hat, red waistcoat and yellow stockings. The presentday image of Santa Claus is attributed to Clement Clarke Moore, an Episcopal minister, who wrote a long Christmas poem for his three daughters in 1822 that was called ‘An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas.’ He lent Santa the image of ‘jolly old elf’ with a portly figure and the supernatural ability to ascend a chimney. The poem pictured that he flew from house to house on Christmas Eve in ‘a miniature sleigh’ led by eight flying reindeers and left presents for children who were good and obedient all through the year. Thomas Nast, the famous cartoonist, added red clothes and protruding belly in 1881 along with a full, white beard and a sack of toys. He introduced the North Pole toy workshop of Santa, his hard-working elves, and his wife, Mrs. Claus too. Swiss children wait for the Christ-child on Christmas, while Kris Kringle is the one to deliver gifts to German children. In hilly regions of Scandinavia, a jolly elf, Jultomten, delivers gifts in a sleigh drawn by goats. English children known Santa Claus by the name of Father Christmas, while Pere Noel fills the shows of French children with treats and toys dutifully. Russians have an old lady called Babouschka, who doesthe job on 5th of January every year. It is said that this lady was so used to solitude thatshe did not like being disturbed by the three wise men to ask for directions to Bethlehem. In anger, she gave them the wrong directions to mislead them as her supposed revenge. However, she repented her actions later and went in search of the men to tell them the right path and ask for forgiveness but she was too late and could not find them anymore. Ever since then, she visits Russian children and leaves gifts for them in the hope that maybe one of them is Baby Jesus who will then forgive her. Italians have a kind witch called La Befana who delivers gifts to the children’s stockings while riding a broomstick.
LEGEND OF THE CHRISTMAS ROSE
Christmas is the season of giving gifts, thereby, showing love towards one another. This does not mean that the gifts are the sole expression of your love. No gift is costlier or more valuable than something that comes straight from the heart, even if the gift in question is inconsequential. The tradition of gifts during Christmas originated from the kind gestures of the three Wise Men who brought expensive presents for the Infant Jesus to welcome him into this world. Since then, people have made gifts a mandate for Christmas. But, this must be remembered, as the legend of Christmas Rose will show you, that the gesture counts more than the gift. Perhaps this legend originated just to teach people that, no matter what you gift, it must be from the heart and soul – even if the gift in question is just a flower. It is owing to this legend that the Christmas rose, the flower which only blooms during the chill of winter, has become an important part of Yuletide celebrations.
On a cold December night, everybody was coming to see the new Savior and brought Him all kinds of gifts and presents. The three Wise Men came in with their valuable gifts of myrrh, frankincense and gold and offered them to Baby Jesus. At that point, a shepherdess, Madelon, who had seen the Wise Men passing through, reached the door of the stable, to see the Child. However, being very poor and having brought nothing to offer to the child, she felt helpless and started weeping quietly at the sight of all the wonderful gifts that the Three Wise Men had got for the child. Earlier, she had searched, in vain, for flowers all over the countryside, but there was not even a single bloom to be found in the bitter winter. An angel outside the door was watching over her and knew about her fruitless search. He took pity on her and, when he saw her head drooped down in sorrow, decided to help her with a little miracle. He gently brushed aside the snow at her feet and where her tears had fallen, sprang a beautiful cluster of waxen white winter roses with pink tipped petals. Then he softly whispered into the shepherdess’s ear that these Christmas roses are far more valuable than any myrrh, frankincense or gold, for they are pure and made of love. The maiden was surprised when she heardthose words and joyfully gathered the flowers and offered them to the Holy Infant, who, seeing that the gift was reared with tears of love, smiled at her with gratitude and satisfaction. Thus, the Christmas rose came to symbolize hope, love and all that is wonderful in this season.
Christmas in Literature
Charles Dickens has probably had more influence on the way that the British celebrate Christmas today than any single individual in human history except one.
At the beginning of the Victorian period the celebration of Christmas was in decline. The medieval Christmas traditions, which combined the celebration of the birth of Christ with the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia (a pagan celebration for the Roman god of agriculture), and the Germanic winter festival of Yule, had come under intense scrutiny by the Puritans under Oliver Cromwell. The Industrial Revolution, in full swing in Dickens’ time, allowed workers little time for the celebration of Christmas.
The romantic revival of Christmas traditions that occurred in Victorian times had other contributors: Prince Albert brought the German custom of decorating the Christmas tree to England. The singing of Christmas carols (which had all but disappeared at the turn of the century) began to thrive again, and the first Christmas card appeared in the 1840s. But it was the Christmas stories of Dickens, particularly his 1843 masterpiece A Christmas Carol, that rekindled the joy of Christmas in Britain and America. Today, after 169 years, A Christmas Carol continues to be relevant, sending a message that cuts through the materialistic trappings of the season and gets to the heart and soul of the holidays.
Dickens describes the holidays as “a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of other people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on their journeys.” This is what Dickens described for the rest of his life as the “Carol Philosophy”.
Dickens' name had become so synonymous with Christmas that on hearing of his death in 1870 a little costermonger’s girl in London asked, “Mr Dickens dead? Then will Father Christmas die too?” costermonger – BrE – a person who sells fruit and vegetables from a cart in the street, especially in London
The Little-Known Story Behind A Christmas Carol
In the fall of 1843, a British novelist found himself facing financial uncertainty. Although his previous novels had sold moderately well, his family bills were mounting and the mortgage was due. One evening, while out for a walk along the Thames, he wandered into a rundown London neighborhood. The streets were strewn with garbage, gutters overflowed with sewage, and pickpockets and streetwalkers were everywhere. He thought back to his troubled childhood, when his father had been sent to debtors’ prison, and how he himself had been forced to work at age 12, pasting labels on pots of boot polish for twelve hours a day, 6 days a week. As he reached his home following his walk, he had a flash of inspiration. He thought of writing a Christmas story full of cheer and goodwill for people who, like he, had suffered poverty and had known what it was like to live in fear. The question was whether, since it was only three months until Christmas, he could finish the book in time. He realized that it had to be a short book, not a full-length novel. He got right to work. And before long, Charles Dickens had created A Christmas Carol. He became very involved with the book, even designing the cover, insisting on a goldstamped cover with a red and green title page and several hand-colored etchings – an expensive design. Yet Dickens held to his original vision of making the book affordable for the widest possible audience, charging only five shillings a copy. The response was overwhelming. The first 6000 copies sold out by Christmas Eve. Today, Dickens’ story is a literary classic. Dickens said that writing that story transformed him. “I was very much affected by that little book,” he later told a journalist, “and quite reluctant to lay it aside even for a moment.” Because of its low price, Dickens himself did not realize much profit from the sales of A Christmas Carol. It was, in a very real sense, a gift to the public. By virtue of its popularity, however, the story created a much wider audience for Dickens’ subsequent works. His later novels, including David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations, all proved highly popular and financially profitable, and his place in literary history has been assured for all time.
‘Twas the night before Christmas
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
“Now, DASHER! now, DANCER! now, PRANCER and VIXEN!
On, COMET! on CUPID! on, DONDER and BLITZEN!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes – how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD-NIGHT!”
Advent the coming of Jesus Christ; the month leading up to Christmas
angel a spiritual being acting as a messenger of God (usually shown as a human being with wings)
berry a small round red fruit on the holly tree often seen in wreaths
Boxing day the day after Christmas day
Bethlehem the small town in the Middle East believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ
candle a cylinder of wax with a central wick (like string) which burns to produce light
chimney a vertical pipe in a house that allows smoke and gases to escape from a fireplace (Father Christmas is believed to enter a house through its chimney)
Christ the title of Jesus (also used as His name)
Christmas the annual Christian festival celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ (Christmas Day is on 25 December in the Western World, and on 7 January in the Eastern World)
Christmas cake a rich fruit cake covered with white icing, eaten at Christmas Christmas card a greeting card that people send to friends and family at Christmas time
Christmas carol a religious song or popular hymn that people sing at Christmas
Christmas Day 25 December/7 January, the birthday of Jesus Christ
Christmas Eve the evening or day before Christmas Day
Christmas holidays the holiday period for about a week before and after Christmas Day. Also called the Christmas Season or Christmas time
Christmas lights outdoor lights, usually in town squares or main streets which are put up and lit during the Christmas period
Christmas present a gift or present given at Christmas
Christmas tree an evergreen tree (often a spruce) that people decorate with lights and ornaments at Christmas
cracker a small paper tube which is pulled from each end by two people at Christmas time. It makes a sharp bang (or crack) when it is pulled and inside there is a toy and a joke written on a small piece of paper
decorations something put up in or on the house or added to a Christmas tree for beauty; ornaments
eggnog a traditional Christmas drink made of alcohol with beaten eggs and milk
fairy lights small lights which are hung on a Christmas tree
Father Christmas (Santa Claus) an imaginary person who brings presents to children on the night before Christmas Day. Traditionally he is an old man with a red suit and white beard
festive period the time around Christmas and New Year when there are lots of parties and Christmas activities
fireplace where people light a fire in their homes for warmth; Santa is believed to down them.
frankincense a gum used for incense, one of the gifts that the three wise men gave to Jesus
gold a yellow precious metal, one of the gifts that the three wise men gave to Jesus
holly an evergreen plant with prickly dark green leaves and red berries
Jesus the name of Christ, the central figure of Christianity (believed by Christians to be the Son of God)
Joseph the husband of Mary (the mother of Jesus)
Magi Another name for the Eastern wise men who brought gifts for the baby Jesus
manger a wooden box for horse or cattle food (Mary used as a cradle/bed for Jesus)
Mary the mother of Jesus
mistletoe a small green flower which is hung from the ceiling around Christmas time. When people are under the mistletoe at the same time, they have to kiss each other. It was also considered sacred by the Druids
myrrh a gum used for perfume or incense, one of the gifts that the three wise men gave to Jesus
the Nativity the birth of Jesus Christ
nativity play a play that people perform at Christmas telling of the birth of Jesus
ornament a decoration (a small ball, toy or piece of chocolate) which is hung on a Christmas tree
poinsettia traditional red or white Christmas plant with large colourful leaves pudding a traditional dessert made of dried fruit soaked in alcohol, eaten on Christmas day
reindeer a deer with large antlers found in some cold climates (believed to pull the sleigh for
Santa Claus or Father Christmas) Santa Claus an imaginary being who brings presents for children on the night before Christmas Day (Father Christmas) – traditionally an old man with a red suit and white beard
Secret Santa people who work together put everyone’s names in a hat and each person picks out one name. They have to keep the name a secret from everyone else and buy a small gift for that person
shepherd a person who looks after sheep
sleigh a sledge or cart on runners pulled by horses or reindeer over snow and ice
stable a small barn or simple, open building for farm animals
the Star of Bethlehem star that announced the birth of Jesus and guided the wise men to find Him
tinsel a decoration consisting of thin strips of shiny metal foil, traditionally used at Christmas
turkey a bird like a large chicken, traditionally eaten at Christmas
White Christmas when snow falls on Christmas day
wrapping paper specially decorated paper (usually with pictures of snowmen, Christmas trees, Santa Claus etc.) used to wrap Christmas gifts
wreath a circle of fresh or dried flowers or leaves which people hang on their front door around Christmas time
wreath White Christmas a circular decoration of evergreens or holly, sometimes with candle or bow a Christmas with snow on the ground. Also a famous holiday song and film.
Yule ancient Druid mid-winter festival celebrated by burning a large log of wood
Xmas abbreviation or informal term for Christmas
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