December 25, 1994 archive
Christmas carols started out as pagan songs which were sung at Winter solstice, around such places as Stonehenge. Solstice in the Winter is around December 22nd and carol means song or dance of joy and praise. Songs like carols were sung all year long but the practice has since gravitated towards the Christmas season only. Christians in the early days substituted carols for the pagans songs at solstice and a Roman bishop in 129 AD allowed a song which was called Angel’s Hymn, to be sung at the Christmas service. In 760 AD a hymn was written for the Greek Orthodox church by Comas of Jerusalem.
Classical composers started to write carols in Europe after that but many people found them unintelligible, as they were in Latin. During the Middle Ages, a lot of people didn’t bother celebrating Christmas. St. Francis of Assisi started the custom of putting on Passion Plays in 1233. He performed these plays in Italy and actors and singers in the plays sang the story as canticles. Most of the time these plays were sung in the language of the country they were performed in, making it easier for ordinary people to join in and enjoy.
The populace in Germany, France, Spain, and other European countries started to enjoy singing carols. The first carol similar to our modern ones was written in 1410. Only a remnant remains and the carol was about Jesus and Mary and meeting people in Bethlehem. During the Elizabethan period and earlier, carols were fictional stories, based on a few nativity time period pieces about the holy family. They were considered entertainment, rather than religious pieces. People sang in homes and not churches.
Minstrels traveled around and sang these songs and adapted the words to various areas and people. I Saw Three Ships is an adapted song and carol. With the puritans in power in England in 1647, singing was forbidden, but people still sang carols in secret. They came back strongly during the Victorian era as two men collected music and songs from the various villages in the U.K. Official carol singers were called Waits. They sang on Christmas eve and could gather in money for singing. They were called Waits as this night was often referred to as waitnight or watchnight. Shepherds were watching their sheep on Christmas eve, when the angels appeared over their heads in Jerusalem.
England had a burst of energy towards setting up church choirs and in the writing of different Christmas carols. Good King Wenceslas and other classics were written around this time, and as the demand increased for new carols, so did the production of them. Regular carol services were created and people started singing them in the streets around the Christmas period. This tradition has carried over to the present and there are even special Christmas time performances of plays given in many countries such as Amahl and the Night Visitors, and A Christmas Carol, amongst others.
Candlelight services on Christmas Eve are extremely popular and brand new carols are being created all year long. Some have their basis in very old tunes and lyrics. One spectacular carol service is broadcast on the BBC, live, all over the world. King’s College puts it on and it’s the done from the old college in Cambridge, in the U.K. First started in 1918, it was to serve as a celebration of the end of WWI.
Another moving performance (actually, several) are put on by Disneyworld in Florida. Celebrities host the performances and they are narrative, along with different choirs singing carols, and a live orchestra. These shows are always sold out and Disneyworld allows for some standing room only “seats”. People line up many hours before the shows, which are staged on a wonderful pavilion stage overlooking the lagoon, right across the street from the America section of Epcot center.
Some of the hundreds of carols which remain popular today, include:
Some carols are so moving, and open with crystal clear high notes, that many find the hair on their arms standing on end (in a good way of course). Many families gather around the old piano and have their own tradition of singing carols on Christmas Eve. Carols have been made into animated mini-movies, and you’ll find these all over the web at holiday time.
There are even Christmas cards out which play carols if you press the little embedded chip in them. If you have one of these, make sure it closes all the way or else the battery will run out and you’ll be left with a non-musical Christmas card!
Christmas cards, like any other greeting card, are meant to convey best wishes of the season, or offer sympathy in case of illness or other somber occasion. Cards such as these are often exchanged between people in Western countries, many other countries, and those in Asia. Often, they are given out by non-Christians as well as those who are Christians. Some cards have a biblical verse, some are fun, and there are cards for adults and children. Card makers consider Christmas as a major holiday event.
Season’s Greetings conveys a generic, even non-Christian greeting while some people like the traditional Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Many illustrations are used on Christmas cards, such as Winter scenes, the nativity, Santa Claus, Christmas presents, Peace, and even Christmas decorated palm trees or flamingoes in California and Florida! There are often reindeer, snowmen, holly, candles, fireplaces, baubles, as well as activities like shopping, partying or caroling available on cards, too.
Some cards, most likely ones with a cottage or church design or Santa Claus, have glitter on them. Other cards are fold outs and can be quite elaborate. Others are sold by the box in a whole range of sizes and quantities. Families enjoy taking a Christmas photo, which can include the dog, and using that on their annual Christmas card send out. Other cards carry old street scenes with windows all aglow, snowdrifts with a cottage nestled amongst the trees, or shopping for a Christmas tree.
Sir Henry Cole ordered the first Christmas cards in 1843, in London. Cole introduced the Penny Post 3 years before and this would increase revenue from that. Also, the cards were expensive for the time — a shilling. Often, early cards from Britain depicted religious or Winter themes, and not the flowers or fairies or birds of spring. Shaped and decorated cards became popular later in the century. Louis Prang was the first printer to have cards available in America, and this was in 1864. You can see one of his Christmas cards here, the one labeled 1864. Knockoffs eventually drove him from that lucrative market.
Elaborate cards from the Victorian age were driven off the market by postcards but they returned in the 1920s, with cards and envelopes. During and after the 2 world wars in the twentieth century, patriotic themes in many forms were popular. In our century, reproductions from the Victorian era regained popularity. Technology has resulted in the decline of printed Christmas cards. Email and phone contact is mostly responsible. Still, in the U.K., the originator of Christmas cards, over 668.9 million printed cards were sold in 2008.
Queen Victoria started with official Christmas cards in the 1840s. The first White House official card was put out by Eisenhower in 1953. Over one million, four hundred thousand White House cards were sent out in 2005. Businesses then and now use Christmas cards to promote their business or to thank customers for their following. Trade cards go way back to the eighteenth century and these are where our modern Christmas cards came from.
The UNICEF Christmas card program started in 1949. Artists from across the world have provided artwork for these fundraising cards. Charities often sell or give out Christmas stickers and stamps. Sometimes they’re sent out to many people, and a small percentage garner a donation. Official Christmas stamps are issued by lots of different countries and these seem to be popular, although some folks have leftovers and will use them up even six months after Christmas! Germany’s postal system gave millions of free scented stickers out to customers and their Christmas cards would have smelled like cinnamon, evergreens, a honey wax candle, gingerbread, oranges and even a baked apple!
With computers, people can design and even print wonderful Christmas cards on their computers. Some families like to make all of their cards by hand and children seem to love these card-making sessions. Handmade cards can be a gift in themselves and are often kept long after a commercially-printed one. There are a lot of card-printing and drawing programs available for most computers. Photographs taken by a person may be enhanced, even to look like a watercolor painting, and used on a Christmas card. Clip art is readily available, often for free, to decorate computer-made Christmas cards.
Collectable cards from the second half of the nineteenth century are highly prized. One of J.C. Horsley’s original cards sold for about $13,000 in 2005. Another card by Horsley fetched the most ever at an auction, when it was sold for around $30,000. Old Christmas cards can be useful when donated to charities, or art from scrap locations. One classic craft project is cutting card scenes out and creating a basket from them. Children can sew the cards together using yarn, and a blanket stitch works well.
In this millennium, more and more of us go to e-cards for our Christmas greeting needs. The trouble with that is you can’t save them in a pretty box, look at them years later, and hand them down to your grandchildren. Christmas cards may be becoming a lost tradition in their original form, but some will always be treasured and kept forever.
FLETCHER’S COCA COLA CAKE
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 sticks butter (or margarine)
2 T. cocoa (more if you want)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cup tiny marshmallows
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup coke
Sift flour and sugar. Heat butter (oleo / margarine), cocoa and coke to boiling and pour over flour and sugar. Mix well. Add milk, baking soda, salt, eggs and vanilla.
Stir in marshmallows. (thin batter)
Grease pan. (We use a rectangular glass, Pyrex-type dish) Bake at 350 for30-40 minutes. (May be 45-50 minutes depending on oven…stick toothpick in several places. Probably done when cake pulls away from sides if no tooth pick available)
Ice cake while warm.
Heat to boiling 1 stick of butter (oleo or margarine), 2 T. cocoa and 6 T. coke. Pour over 1 box of conf. sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla. (1 cup nuts may be added if desired.)
Spread on cake.
(Doubling the icing is good too!)