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Saturday, December 23, 2017

Holiday Songs Origin

Some of the popular Christmas carols we sing has origins only a few of us know. Here are some of the popular Holiday songs and Christmas carols and its origin in language, country and other derivations and interesting stories behind it.

Jingle Bells - Language: English - USA  - written by James L. Pierpont, published under the title One Horse, Open Sleigh and first performed in 1857. Originally intended during Thanksgiving Day but eventually popular during Christmas

Silent Night
- Language: German - Austria - originally titled Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht. The song was written by a priest Fr. Josef Mohr in 1816 and composed by Franz Gruber and was first performed on Christmas eve of 1818 at the St Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf, Austria.

Have Yourself A Merry Christmas
- Language: English - USA - debuted in the 1944 classic film, Meet Me In St. Louis

Joyeux Noel
- Language: French - France

Feliz Navidad
- Language: Spanish - Puerto Rico - written in 1970 by Puerto Rican singer and songwriter Jose Feliciano

Auld Lang Syne
  - Language: English - Scotland - it is a poem written by Scottish poet Robert Burns and set to the tune of a traditional folk song (Roud # 6294). It is well known in many countries, especially in the English-speaking world, its traditional use being to bid farewell to the old year at the stroke of midnight.

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
- Language: English -  USA - writted by James Gillespie and was first performed on American singer Eddie Cantor's radio show in 1934. However for all its mirth, its inspiration came from a place of grief. Initially, he rejected the job, feeling too overcome with grief to consider penning a playful holiday ditty. But a subway ride recollecting his childhood with his brother and his mother's warnings that Santa was watching changed his mind. He had the lyrics in 15 minutes, then called in composer John Coots to make up the music that would become a big hit within 24 hours of its debut. 

Hark! The Herald Angel Sing
- Language: English - England - written by Charles Wesley and first appeared in the collection Hymns and Sacred Poems in 1739. The melody used in the lyrics was that of Felix Mendelssohn

Deck The Halls
- Language: English - Wales - The lyrics were written by the Scottish musician Thomas Oliphant around 1862 while its melody is Welsh in origin which dates back to the sixteenth century and belongs to a winter carol, "Nos Galan".

Petit Papa Noel
  - Language: French - France - it is a 1946 song recorded by French singer Tino Rossi and written by Raymond Vincy and Henri Martinet, this Christmas song was originally performed by Rossi in Richard Pottier's film Destins.

Oh Come, All Ye Faithful
- Language: Latin - Various Countries - originally written in Latin as Adeles Fideles, the song has been attributed to various authors including John Francis Wade (1711–1786), John Reading (1645–1692) and King John IV of Portugal (1604–1656), with the earliest manuscript of the hymn bearing his name, located in the library of the Ducal Palace of Vila Viçosa.

Little Drummer Boy
- originally known as "Carol of the Drum", the song was written by the American classical music composer and teacher Katherine Kennicott Davis in 1941. First recorded in 1951 by the Trapp Family Singers, the song was further popularized by a 1958 recording by the Harry Simeone Chorale; the Simeone version was re-released successfully for several years and the song has been recorded many times since.

White Christmas
- Language: English - USA - debuted in the 1940 black and white film, Holiday Inn

O Christmas Tree
- Language: German - Germany - originally named O Tanenbaum, the song's earliest version dates back to the 16th century, when Melchior Franck wrote a folk song about the tradition of bringing a small fir tree into one's home to decorate and sit beside the seasonal nativity scene. This decorating tradition and its celebratory song moved from Germany to the U.S. along with its emigrants. The modern lyrics were written in 1824, by the Leipzig organist, teacher and composer Ernst Anschütz.

We Three Kings
- Language: English - USA -  is a Christmas carol that was written by John Henry Hopkins, Jr. in 1857. At the time of composing the carol, Hopkins served as the rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and he wrote the carol for a Christmas pageant in New York City. Many versions of this song have been composed and it remains a popular Christmas carol.


The Origins of 10 Popular Christmas Carols, MentalFloss.com - http://mentalfloss.com/article/60596/origins-10-popular-christmas-carols

Friday, December 22, 2017

12 Days Of Christmas Song Symbols, Origins and Stories

The song "Twelve Days of Christmas" is a popular Christmas song all around the world. According to the Wikipedia, it is an English Christmas carol that enumerates in the manner of a cumulative song a series of increasingly grand gifts given on each of the twelve days of Christmas (to which the twelve days represents the Christmas season beginning with Christmas Day). It was published in England in 1780 without music as a chant or rhyme and thought to be French in origin. It has so many versions but the standard tune associated with it and is popular today is derived from a 1909 arrangement of a traditional folk melody by English composer Frederic Austin, who first introduced the now familiar prolongation of the verse "five gold ring."

Many people don't know but there are hidden meanings and symbolisms on these songs than merely a Christmas carols and gifts of love. Its symbolisms enriches and gives color to the meaning of Christmas and our deep connection to Christ. Each of the elements on each day as well has its own origins.

In 1979, according to a Canadian hymnologist, Hugh D. McKellar, who published an article, "How to Decode the Twelve Days of Christmas", he suggested that someone wrote "The Twelve Days of Christmas" as a kind of secret catechism that could be sung in public without the risk of persecution as pious Roman Catholics in England were not allowed to practice their faith openly from 1558 - 1829. These are the songs grand gifts on each day of Christmas and their hidden meaning known only to members of the church. Each supposed "grand gifts" increasing in number each day in the carol is a code word for a religious reality. 

Religious Symbols

A Partridge in a Pear Tree is Jesus Christ
Two Turtle Doves represents the Old and New Testaments
Three French Hens stand for Faith, Hope and Charity (theological virtues) or the Gifts of the Magi (Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh)
Four Calling Birds are the Four Gospels
Five Gold Rings recall the Torah (law) or the First Five Books of the Old TestamentSix Geese A-Laying stand for the Six Days of Creation
Seven Swans A-Swimming represent the Sevenfold Gifts of the SpiritEight Maids A-Milking are the Eight Beatitudes
Nine Ladies Dancing are the Nine Fruits of the Spirit
Ten Lords A-Leaping are the Ten Commandments
Eleven Pipers Piping stand for the Eleven Faithful Disciples
Twelve Drummers Drumming symbolizes the
12 points of belief in the Apostles Creed

The Twelve Days of Christmas first appeared in a children's book Mirth Without Mischief which was appears to be a memory and forfeit game in England in 1780 (though some say the song itself is like a memory game). The object of the game is to have the first player start out reciting the first verse, with each of the following players repeating previous versed and then adding one. If a player missed a verse or made some kind of error, then he/she would have to give a kiss or some kind of food to someone else.  Though the first published version of the song was in England there are three older versions of the song in French and another version from Scotland so therefore, some people argued that the origins of the song is highly debatable with the song not necessarily in English but French.

As for the twelve grand gifts there are some symbolism and origins of how they came to be celebrated as presents in a song.

Origins and Stories

A Partridge In A Pear Tree

One tradition for the Twelfth Night is to go around wassailing fruit trees as a kind of fertility rite. The way to do it varies for centuries. By the 18th century (when the song was created and published) wassailing was done by pouring cider, honey, spices and pulp from a burst baked apple (all combined and mixed in a bowl) around the trees. The term "wassail" was derived from the phrase waes hael which means "be whole" or in other words be in good health.

Another folklore tells that a young maiden suppose to walk backwards around a pear tree three times in the morning of Christmas day where she will gaze into the branches then she will see the image of her future husband.

Fruits represents fertility and sexuality through centuries. Apples represents the female while the pear is suppose to represent the male. The male partridge is also well known for being a lusty suitor, very fertile, and producing a lot of offspring therefore, the "partridge in a pear tree" has a sexual connotation.

In England, the red-legged partridge was commonly known to sit in pear trees but this bird was not introduced to England from France until the late 1770s. Since the verse is earlier than that time, many people believed that the song originates from France.

Two Turtle Doves

Doves for centuries have symbolized both love and fertility.  Astarte, the Phoenician goddess of love, is said to have been hatched on the banks of the Euphrates River from an egg that was warmed by two doves.  Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty, was born of water, where doves are often depicted drinking. Hence, this is why they are often seen as fountain art.  Christianity then associated doves as a symbol of the Holy Spirit.

Doves are believed to mate for life.  Today, they symbolize marital devotion, faithfulness and love forever.

Three French Hens

Some believe that French hens prove that this song really originated in France. How? The Latin name for France was Gaul, which comes from the Latin word Gallia which is close to another Roman word for rooster.

In Christian religion, it was believed that a cock crowed when Christ was born as a sign that "the light of the world" has arrived. The reason for which a rooster on a Christian tomb symbolizes resurrection.

During the 18th century, large, exotic fowl from the Orient were brought back to England. These birds mated with the descendants of the Roman-breed chickens.  It is believed that the "three French hens" in the song represent a new breed. White chickens are believed to bring good luck.  And, hens are believed to symbolize motherly devotion.

Four Calling (Colly) Birds

We have been singing calling birds all this time but in reality it's colly birds. A colly bird is a European black bird.  Colly means black. Therefore, a dark, black bird looked like black coal and was called a "coalie" or "Colly Bird."   

It means that the song is saying four crows but who likes crows for Christmas? These people did back in the old times. During the medieval days, blackbird was considered a delicacy. In the children's song "Sing a Song of Sixpence" there are 24 blackbirds backed in a pie.  Pies seem to be a real gourmet food in the peak of The Twelfth Night days and were often a sign of status and competition among the wealthy.  Dining during this time was a form of entertainment, with food presentations having fireworks, and surprises coming out of them. 

But, the grandest pie of all was said to be  in the year 1770 for Sir Henry Grey at a Twelfth Night celebration in London.  This pie is said to be 9 feet in circumference.  The filling was composed of two bushels of flour, two woodcocks, two turkeys, two rabbits, two ox tongues, four geese, four ducks, four partridges, six pigeons, seven blackbirds and twenty lbs. of butter!  The pie weighed 168 lbs. and was wheeled into the dining room. 

Five Golden Rings

Actually it is not the gold rings given on the fifth day but it is just a reference to birds (observe the pattern in the song) and the 5 golden rings are said to represent the gold rings on a pheasant's neck but why pheasant?

It all begins with the legend of Jason and the Argonauts back in 750 B.C. when they sailed from Thessaly, Greece in search of the "Golden Fleece".  During this epic journey, they landed in Phalis, acquiring not only the sorceress, Medea, but also a lot of golden birds.  The Greek word phasianornis means "bird of Phasis."  It is believed that this species of ring-necked pheasant are from the  sub-species of the  infamous "Golden Fleece."  Soon, eating pheasant was only for the very rich and royal, often becoming the high-point of the feast.  Many times, it was customary to swear an oath upon it before eating.

Six Geese A-Laying

Going back to Neolithic times, the goose is one of the oldest domesticated birds.  It's also been the topic of a lot of folklore.

Because of their migration habits, they were often considered to be a symbol of the solar year and also fertility. Ancient Egyptians believed that a mummy's soul rose up in the form of a goose with a human head.  The Roman goddess, Juno (rules heaven and marriages), considered the goose sacred. Why? In 387 B.C. the geese in her temple cackled and honked, warning the Romans that barbarians were close.  Ever since then, the geese were honored for their protective services.   Medieval seafarers had a strange tale on the origin of the goose.  It seems that on the hull of their ships grew this long, goose-shaped barnacle.  Coincidentally, there was also an Artic goose that migrated around England. Since this goose and the barnacle looked a lot alike, the sailors said that the goose originated from the barnacle, and in some tales a seaside tree.

But why geese are this important? It is because the goose came from a tree it was suddenly all right to eat because it was then considered a 'fruit' and not the 'flesh of animals.'  By the 18th century, the goose was the customary Christmas dinner.  The boar had been hunted to extinction, so it was no longer served. But, many homes served a string of sausages around the goose as a reminder of the boar in days past.

Seven Swans A-Swimming

Because many water-fowl could both fly and swim, the ancients had a real fascination with them.  Many believed that these animals had a connection between natural and supernatural worlds.   The migrations of some birds (disappearing when days grew short and coming when they grew longer) also added to their beliefs.   Egypt Linked swans with immortality, just like they did the geese.   The Greek priests, who worship Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, are believed to be descended from swans.  Old Celtic and British myths believe that lost loved ones turn into swans, with gold or silver chains on their necks to symbolize their enchantment.  The transformation is believed to take place during their Samhain festival, where the gates of the other worlds open up and souls are free to pass.
King Edward of England, in 1304 took his vows of knighthood over two white swans decorated with gold nets and crowns.  Since then, the swans became associated with royalty; and, having swans was strictly exclusive to the monarchy.  In Britain today, the swan is still considered a symbol of royalty.

In 1697 black swans were discovered in Australia.  This caused a great stir in Europe, because  up until then, it was believed that swans were suppose to be white. At least, they were all white in Europe!

Eight Maids A-Milking

This refers to the many food products that are made of milk.  In the old days, due to poor refrigeration, a person didn't really drink fresh milk.  Milk quickly would sour and/or separate.  But, when it was in the form of sweet milk, sour cream, butter and/or cheese, then milk became very important!

Custard was one of the favorite foods of the Middle Ages. Another was boiling (hulled) wheat in milk, with egg yolks and some saffron.  It's closest resemblance today would be like oatmeal?  Cottage cheese was another popular food. But, actual cheese was the prize!  Both in England and France, cheese provided food during the long winters.  

In 18th century England, they played a game on Christmas night called "Yawning for the Chesire Cheese."  OK, now we all know that yawning is addictive.  It's really hard to not yawn when you see someone yawn. Well, back in the those days they had yawning contests.  And, the person who made the widest and longest yawn --- and who produced the greatest yawns in return --- won the cheese!

Now we get to the term "come a-milking."  In the 18th century, when a maiden was asked to "go a-milking" it had one of two meanings.  Either it was a proposal of marriage; or, it was a rather risquè invitation for intimacy.  I'm not sure how a girl knew which intention the man meant.

Nine Ladies Dancing

Along the same lines as the bagpipes previously, dancing was also connected to the music. As I said above, the dances were known as caroles. During the Middle Ages, the carole was very popular court entertainment. But, prior to this time, dancing was considered a sin of the flesh and was connected with the devil. Since most dances were done in circles, the direction in which one danced also mattered. Slowly, dancing got accepted --- but only if done in the correct direction! The Christian church considered  dancing to the left = bad, but dancing to the right = good. However, many non-Christian people danced from left to right because they were worshipping the sun (round) as a way of representing the sun's movement from east to west. The sun was a priority in many dances. They didn't do it as a form of evil. In some cases, the dances were done in a circle around a fire. The fire represented the sun's light, warmth and purifying qualities. Eventually, the Christian church failed in banning dancing, especially in circles going left. And, by the 15th century the word for carole was replaced with the word branle, because dancing was then associated with songs. Eventually, the songs turned into stories, like those about Christmas. This is how the term Christmas Carols came about. As the years went on, the round dance, grew into many different types of dances.

Ten Lords A-Leaping

Leaping dances were strictly for the men. These dances were for the purpose of fertility as well as for war. These physically exerting dances were meant to rile up the men for battle to create some kind of mental exhilaration. 

The Roman god of vegetation and war was Mars.  The Roman priests of their Salii ritual would leap as high as they could in the air in hopes of inducing the corn to grow. It was believed that the height of their leap would be the height of the corn. Swords were a part of their costume.  

In Britain, the lords a-leaping are assumed to be morris dancers, highly costumed ceremonial folk, who performed between the courses of a Christmas feast.  One form of morris dancing included swords (just like the the Salii ritual mentioned above) also.  In this dance, twelve men in two teams performed intricate patterns, ending with the swords being braided together to form a Lock or Nut above the Lord of Misrule (during the Twelfth Night Celebration).  In other morris dancing, instead of swords, antlers were worn.

By the end of the 18th century, this style of dance was no longer of interest to the upper classes for entertainment.  It was being performed at festivals or fairs only.

Some believe that the lords a-leaping did a dance called the gavotte for the Twelfth Night celebrations because it was accompanied by a drum and bagpipe.  The gavotte lasted until the end of the 18th century and then faded away in popularity.

Eleven Pipers Piping

Sitting around, watching your sheep was a pretty boring job. So, shepherds often would play their pipes.  It is believed that on the night Jesus was born, shepherds were playing.  It's also rumored that while Rome burned, Nero wasn't fiddling. Instead, he was playing bagpipes!  

By the 9th century, the bagpipe was the instrument for all medieval celebrations.  This music had only one single line of melody, which suited the bagpipe quite nicely, especially for dances called caroles.

Drones, which could produce only a single tone were added to the bagpipes in the 13th century.  The drone is what creates that background hum that you hear.  As the demand for more harmony, multi-notes, and melodies grew, the bagpipes were losing their popularity and being replaced by other musical instruments.  But, in never died out in Scotland!  In the 16th century, the bagpipe became an instrument associated with soldiers and fighting.  It had a real stirring effect on the men!  Because of this, the English banned the bagpipe in Ireland.

In France, the bagpipe was popular as an accompaniment for dance.  In the 17th century, a new kind of bagpipe was created called the musette.  These were driven by bellows (rather than mouthblown), and the sound was less shrill. The French nobility also had their musettes crafted not just as musical instruments, but as works of art, with ivory chanter and bag covers made of embroidered silk, with tassels and fringes.  Many French musicians often played the musette as entertainment for Twelfth Night celebrations.

Twelve Drummers Drumming

In the early days of England, they had town watchmen, known as waits, that went around patrolling the streets and calling out the hours of the night. By the 18th century, the got a little more skilled and turned into town musicians. During Christmastime, these town musicians were nicely rewarded.  They sang day and night, often serenading sleepers from midnight to dawn.

But, odd as this seems, Europe wasn't really into drums.  They actually first got introduced to them during the Crusades when they brought them back to Europe as their spoils from the Holy Land.  These drums were basically Egyptian and Sumerian.  Soon, the beat of a drum became associated with warfare.  And, a symbol of marching into battle.

The drum also became associated with the trumpet, to announce the arrival of each course during banquets.  A skilled musician could not only play the pipes, but also the tabor (a small drum).  This was known as the whittle and dub.


Twelve Days of Christmas Wikipedia
The Twelve Days of Christmas Christmas Carol History, Meaning & Symbol, Brownielocks & The 3 Bear
s - https://www.brownielocks.com/twelvedaysofchristmas.html
The Hidden Meaning Behind The 12 Days Of Christmas
This Gives A Whole New Meaning To The Song - http://www.raskys.com/christmas38.html