Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Traditions -- Caroling, Wassailing and Holly

Leah, soprano, from our 1993 Regional Contact episode for CTV
I did this originally as a guest-post on the Blog, "Keeping the Christms Spirit Alive, 365" -- another great blog by Natasha in Oz

Decking the halls with holly and wassailing all around the town...

Holly, Mistletoe and even our Christmas tree are most likely vestiges of a pagan heritage that some Christians would rather forget.To avoid persecution from the Romans, Christians adopted a number of the traditions usually practiced for Saturnalia. This helped them blend in with the pagans and avoid harassment for their christian faith.
Holly leaves and berries are often added to wreaths because of a folk tale dating back to the first century that said the crown of thorns was mixed with holly. John McCollister

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly

Though most of us now live in modern homes rather than great vaulted halls, we still (deck) decorate at Christmastime. with holly, wreaths, candy canes and ivy.

There is evidence that this old carol originated in Wales but the words are believed to be American. If you wonder why American lyrics would celebrate old English customs, the answer is simple. The lyrics were written in 19th century America when Mr.Washington Irving was glorifying English customs and Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol" was at the height of its first popularity. 
Abridged text from the Readers Digest Merry Christmas Songbook

Christmas Caroling
 "It may seem strange to us today that carols were originally used for dancing, since to dance in church smaks of irreverence. ... The Franciscan Friars were particularly devoted to dancing, and it may be that they brought the carole and its associated dances to England in the early 13th century."
From The Book of Christmas Carols, Fairmount books, inc.

The earliest carols were plainchant hymns from the middle ages.Modern choirs prefer many voices, so these songs are rarely sung. Holy Songs, 1582, by J. M. Neale collected the best carols of the Medieval period. Through the centuries, hymns and songs of Christmas, originated throughout Europe, were in vigorous use until a sudden decline of interest in the 18th century. It was reversed with the new idea of a  "congregational hymn" encouraging multiple voice parts to lift the songs to exciting new heights.
From the New Oxford Book of Carols (easily the most exhaustive Christmas carol book on the planet!)

Wassailing from house to house, involved carrying a wooden bowl filled with spiced wine as a gift for the household.
Stairwell Carollers carrying a wassail bowl --That's me on the right. This is also from our 1993 Regional Contact episode

"Somerset Wassail" was performed live in concert by The Stairwell Carollers on Dec 18, 2009.

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You can also email your questions to me - info (at) stairwellcarollers (dot) com.
Holly :)

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