In The Bleak Midwinter

In The Bleak Midwinter

In 1872, Scribner’s Monthly published a Christmas poem by Christina Rossetti placing the Nativity in a snowy landscape familiar to most American readers. The poem was set to the music of Gustav Holst in the 1906 English Hymnal. The tune, named Cranham, reflected the quiet simplicity of the poem and the serene beauty of the Nativity.

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone:
Snow had fallen, snow on snow
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter,
Long ago.
Our God, heaven cannot hold him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty
Jesus Christ.
Enough for him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk,
And a mangerful of hay:
Enough for him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.
Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air –
But only his mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the beloved
With a kiss.
What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give him –
Give my heart.

Gaudete

Gaudete

The title of this song is from the Latin word for “rejoice”. It is thought to have been composed in the 16th Century.

Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine, gaudete!
Tempus adest gratiæ
Hoc quod optabamus,
Carmina lætitiæ
Devote reddamus.
Deus homo factus est
Natura mirante,
Mundus renovatus est
A Christo regnante.
Ezechielis porta
Clausa pertransitur,
Unde lux est orta
Salus invenitur.
Ergo nostra concio
Psallat iam in lustro;
Benedicat Domino:
Salus Regi nostro.

Riu Riu Chiu

Riu Riu Chiu

This charming song is an example of a Spanish villancico expressing themes of the Nativity and rotating around Christmastime.

Riu, riu, chiu
la guarda ribera /
Dios guardó el lobo
de nuestra cordera /
Dios guardó el lobo
de nuestra cordera.

El lobo rabioso
la quiso morder /
Mas Dios Poderoso
la supo defender /
Quizo la hacer que
no pudiese pecar /
Ni aun original
esta virgen no tuviera.

Riu, riu, chiu…

Este que es nascido
es El Gran Monarca /
Cristo Patriarca
de carne vestido /
Ha nos redimido
con se hacer chiquito /
Aunque era infinito
finito se hiciera.

Riu, riu, chiu…

Este viene a dar
a los muertos vida /
Y viene a reparar
de todos la caida /
Es la luz del dia
aqueste Moçuelo /
Este es el Cordero
que San Juan dijera.

Riu, riu, chiu…

Yo vi mil Garzones
que andavan cantando /
Por aqui volando
haciendo mil sones /
Diciendo a gascones
Gloria sea en el Cielo /
Y paz en el suelo
pues Jesus nasciera.

Riu, riu, chiu…

Pues que ya tenemos
lo que deseamos /
Todos juntos vamos
presentes llevemos /
Todos le daremos
nuestra voluntad /
Pues a se igualar
con nosotros viniera.

Riu, riu, chiu…

Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248

Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248

Johann Sebastian Bach composed this oratorio for the Christmas season of 1734. It is presented in six parts pertaining to the Christmas story.

Part 1 is about the Birth of Christ. Part 2 is the angelic host addressing the shepherds. Part 3 is the adoration of the shepherds at the site of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Part 4 is the circumcision and naming of Jesus. Part 5 is the journey of the Wise Men. Part 6 is the adoration of the Wise Men at the site of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

The Children’s Friend

The Children’s Friend

This poem was published anonymously as a booklet in 1821. Clement Clarke Moore drew from the themes and ideas of this poem to craft his own “Visit from Saint Nicholas”.

Old Santeclaus with much delight
His reindeer drives this frosty night,
O’er chimney tops, and tracks of snow,
To bring his yearly gifts to you.

The steady friend of virtuous youth,
The friend of duty, and of truth,
Each Christmas eve he joys to come
Where love and peace have made their home.

Through many houses he has been,
And various beds and stockings seen;
Some, white as snow, and neatly mended,
Others, that seem’d for pigs intended.

Where e’er I found good girls or boys,
That hated quarrels, strife and noise,
I left an apple, or a tart,
Or wooden gun, or painted cart;

To some I gave a pretty doll,
To some a peg-top, or a ball;
No crackers, cannons, squibs, or rockets,
To blow their eyes up, or their pockets.

No drums to stun their Mother’s ear,
Nor swords to make their sisters fear;
But pretty books to store their mind
With knowledge of each various kind.

But where I found the children naughty,
In manners rude, in temper haughty,
Thankless to parents, liars, swearers,
Boxers, or cheats, or base tale-bearers,

I left a long, black, birchen rod,
Such as the dread command of God
Directs a Parent’s hand to use
When virtue’s path his sons refuse.

Xmas Heroes – Parents

Xmas Heroes – Parents

What would Christmas be without parents? As much as Christmas has become a child-focused affair, it really depends on the parents to bring the magic to the holiday. Having been on both sides of the spectrum, I can say this is completely true.

My parents did such a wonderful job of making Christmastime special for my sister and me. My mother spent weeks ahead of the big day baking cookies. It was a great time for togetherness. She put on the Bing Crosby album and stacked up the Chipmunks behind it and we began making and baking the cookies that would go into Tupperware containers until family and friends came by. My father got out the electric racetrack and we raced our little cars for hours on end. We all sat together and watched Christmas specials and holiday movies on TV. We all got together and played board games and cards. Weather permitting, we went out and had snowball fights and built forts. It was such a wonderful experience and gave me a lifelong love for the holiday season.

On the flip side, as a parent I get no greater joy than burying my wife and kids in presents and watching holiday movies together. Creating a place where my kids can enjoy the magic of the holidays is an annual challenge and goal for me. If you’re anything like me, the thrill of finding a 24×7 Christmas music station is a harbinger of marvelous things to come. I’m no Clark Griswold, but I do like things to be a bit over the top for the holidays. I like having decorations in every corner of the house. I like having all the tastes and smells of the season available throughout the month of December and even the weeks before and after.

Honestly, I miss the days of counting down the days until Christmas and having a mountain of presents mysteriously appear beneath the tree. That was a real treat. It made the holidays genuinely magical for me. That being said, I never cease to be amazed at just how the magic continues to apply. As the parents, it is our job to make those presents mysteriously appear for Christmas morning. The amazing thing is that we actually put it together. Having slowly gathered and wrapped the presents for our munchkins, we tuck them away to await the big reveal. Stepping back from our late night Santa stand-in, we’re nearly just as thrilled and amazed as if we were the ones receiving the presents. It is a truly enchanting sight. The twinkling lights of the tree cast a special glow over the stack of presents we’ve assembled for the kids. It’s enough to give me a chill of delight just looking at it.

I’m so pleased to have shared this week of Christmas Heroes with you. Thank you for following our series. For the Twelve Days of Christmas this year, I have assembled a variety of obscure yuletide entertainments. I hope you will enjoy them as much as you have our Christmas Heroes and Historical Grinches.

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Xmas Heroes – Gayla Peevey

Xmas Heroes – Gayla Peevey

The 1950’s were a great time to be a kid. In the wake of the Second World War, America was expressing a new sense of optimism and can-do attitude. Industry that had ramped up to facilitate the war effort was converting to a peacetime footing. Jobs that had been so scarce in the Great Depression that preceded the war were now plentiful and looking for returning veterans to fill them. This bounty led to new families in new houses starting a Baby Boom. As these kids began to mature, popular culture began to accommodate this new and highly valuable demographic.

TV shows like “Lassie”, “Leave it to Beaver” and “Howdy Doody” were created to celebrate the abundance of children in the country and to idealize family life and joyous childhood. Since Christmas had been increasingly focusing on childhood, it’s only natural that Christmas would be tremendously child-focused in the Boom era. Wonderful classic toys like the Daisy Model 1938 Red Ryder youth BB gun that Ralphie so desires in “A Christmas Story” and the Radio Flyer wagon became cultural legends.

With all the focus on children, Columbia Records signed a precocious singer from Oklahoma to sing a variety of novelty songs. Aged 10 years old, the very talented Ms Peevey debuted with the song “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas”. Naturally, it was a hit. Because it caught on and because Gayla was a local talent, the Oklahoma City Zoo started a fundraising campaign to get her a live hippo for Christmas in 1953. They had recently completed a fundraiser with children putting pennies in jars to buy the zoo an elephant, so they thought they might be able to do the same for a hippopotamus. They succeeded. Gayla was presented with a baby hippo named Matilda who she donated to the zoo. Matilda lived until 1998.

Gayla performed a variety of other comical holiday hits like this one.

Gayla’s performances represented the way that children were seen in the fifties. Kids were cute, optimistic and silly. It was a time to believe that all things were possible and that society at large was set up to make that happen.

In 1959, she changed labels and began recording under the name Jamie Horton. She moved on with her life after age 19 when she married her husband, Cliff. She graduated San Diego State University and became a teacher, advertising executive, wife, mom and proud grandmother.

Even today, Gayla is the embodiment of everything that is great about being an American. Gayla is a wonderful living Christmas legend and the season is that much more enjoyable because of her music and joyous attitude.

Ms. Peevey talks about her experiences with the song that launched her to childhood fame.
The Oklahoma City Zoo shares in a sing-along with Gayla Peevey by video conference

Xmas Heroes – Christmas Truce

Xmas Heroes – Christmas Truce

On June 28th of 1914, a Bosnian Serb nationalist assassinated the presumptive heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Due to a mad web of international treaties and cultural obligations, this began a horrendous conflict that lasted four years. The war ultimately cost the lives of 11 million combatants, 7 million civilian victims, 20 million wounded and countless families broken by the deaths and property destruction. Entire towns were wiped off the map. Ancient sites were demolished. Empires fell and countries ceased to exist.

The Christmas Truce in No Man's Land, 1914In the midst of all this, on Christmas Eve of 1914, peace broke out. Men who had been shooting at each other for months spent an unexpected night of friendship and camaraderie that began with a bit of Christmas spirit.

Trench warfare was a soul-sucking drudgery. Men on each side had dug a rabbit’s warren of trenches through which they could travel safely back and forth along the lines. Small makeshift barracks were dug among the lines as well as supply closets and ammunition depots. On top of the trenches, machine gun emplacements provided cover fire to keep the other men down in their tunnels. It was dreary and uncomfortable. After a summer of rapid exchanges back and forth across battle lines, the trenches created a sort of dreadful permanence to the battlefield that would persist for years to come.

On that particular night, it was time for the combatants to celebrate the season in their own ways. For the Germans, they chose to sing the song written less than a century before by Father Mohr and Franz Gruber. Stille Nacht rose over the parapets to reach the ears of their British adversaries. Before long, the Brits joined in with their own Silent Night.

http://christmasallthetime.com/xmas-heroes-franz-xaver-gruber/The song led to a conversation. The conversation led to men meeting in No Man’s Land, the wasted and bomb-scarred area between the trench lines. This was an area that was usually a guaranteed death sentence to any who entered it, but on Christmas Eve it became a gift exchange and even an impromptu football game. Unlike both World Wars, the Germans actually won.

Sadly, the truce was not observed everywhere along the lines. In many places, fighting continued. Afterwards, reactions were generally disapproving.

The French felt betrayed by the British who had participated. Being friendly with the army who had invaded their land and caused so much damage and death was considered to be a slap in the face.

Winston Churchill and Kaiser Wilhelm II-(1906)General staff was certainly concerned that this sort of fraternization could lead to open mutiny and collapse of order. Rather than viewing it as a grass-roots rejection of the validity of the war, it was seen as disciplinary matter. Threats of court martial and renewed propaganda to demonize the enemy changed the nature of warfare afterwards. The remainder of the war was a cold, dehumanizing slog to an ultimately pointless finish on the 11th of November in 1918. Millions dead and empires shattered. All of this could have been prevented in the summer of 1914 or staunched at Christmastime of 1914. Instead, they brutally stamped out the Christmas spirit and ordered the shooting to begin again.

Xmas Heroes – Francis Pharcellus Church

Xmas Heroes – Francis Pharcellus Church

A child asked a question that is of concern to so many children at one time or another. Virginia O’Hanlon asked her father, who referred her to their favorite newspaper. The family had often written to the editorial staff of the New York Sun to have matters clarified. Editor Frank Pharcellus Church took up the momentous task of addressing this most vexing of childhood dilemmas.

Frank was a graduate of Columbia College of Columbia University and a Civil War correspondent. In the post-war period, he saw a trend of losing hope and faith in the wake of great suffering. We commend him on his contribution to Christmas spirit and his kindness to Virginia in particular.

Here is the famous inquiry and the wonderful editorial response:

DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

VIRGINIA O’HANLON.
115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Xmas Heroes – Charles Dickens

Xmas Heroes – Charles Dickens

Charles DickensIn 1843, Charles Dickens published a novella that has never been out of print at any time from then until today. The story has also been presented in virtually every other form of media. Dickens was already famous for his novels The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist when he released this charming tale of a stone-hearted miser’s redemption. In saving the old man’s soul from eternal punishment, Dickens also revived Christmas.

As mentioned in Historical Grinches – The Puritans, Christmas was considered to be an unruly nuisance and a mainly Catholic celebration. As such, it was basically outlawed and made socially unacceptable. In England as well as America, Christmas had gone out of style. With the telling of this tale, Dickens did a great deal to change that. He felt that creating a nostalgic sense of an English Christmas would restore some semblance of social harmony and well-being in the modern world.

As with so many of his novels, Dickens wanted to cast a spotlight on the plight of the poor. He had originally planned on sufficing with a polemic pamphlet entitled “An Appeal to the People of England on behalf of the Poor Man’s Child” but decided to embed the message in a story instead. Well done, Charles. So much the better to let the Ghost of Christmas Present harangue the miserable miser, Ebeneezer Scrooge, as part of his reclamation than to lecture his readers directly.

In truth, Dickens had already used a sample of this story line in The Pickwick Papers. He presented an idealized Christmas at Dingley Dell that is reminiscent of nephew Fred’s Christmas gathering and various other scenes that the Ghost of Christmas Present shows to Scrooge. Also, Mr Wardle tells a story about a sexton named Gabriel Grub who undergoes a Yuletide conversion like Scrooge’s.

Dickens found A Christmas Carol to be an excellent vehicle to drive the conscience of his contemporaries and all subsequent generations toward the awareness of the needy among us and the awareness that one’s own success is an obligation to be generous as Christ commanded rather than as license to assume an air of aloof superiority. As the Ghost of Christmas Present admonishes,

“Man,” said the Ghost, “if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!”

Charles Dickens was the vocal conscience of his age. He sympathized with the plight of the poor in an increasingly industrialized world. Ultimately, child labor was eliminated in our society although it still remains a problem in the developing world. The welfare state is still a problematic issue. It’s good not to have people starving in the streets, but with charity comes a host of related problems that we still haven’t entirely worked out. Dependence is ultimately servitude of one kind or another. How wonderful that Dickens’ insight still speaks to us so poignantly today. How sad that we still haven’t learned all of the lessons he sought to teach.

You can read the story for yourself at Project GutenbergA Christmas Carol (cover)

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