“O Holy Night” (also known as “Cantique de Noël”) is a well-known Christmas carol.
Back in 1843, in a small French town, Roquemaure, a man named Placide Cappeau was known more for his talent at writing poetry. A priest asked him to write a poem for Christmas Mass. He took his request seriously. Placide Cappeau began thinking about the birth of Jesus. With that inspiration, he wrote “Cantique de Noel.”
Placide was so pleased with how the poem came out that he decided it needed to be a song. Since he was a poet but not a musician, he turned to a friend, Adolphe Charles Adams, to see if he would set his poem to music. Adolphe was a famous classical musician who had composed many works all around the world, but he agreed to come up with music for his friend’s poem.
In 1843 or 1847, according to two different sources, he composed music to go with the beautiful words, and the song was performed a few weeks later at a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
The song was premiered in Roquemaure in 1847 by the opera singer, Emily Laurey.
In 1855, an American writer, John Sullivan Dwight, saw something in the song that moved him beyond the story of the birth of Christ. An abolitionist, Dwight strongly identified with the lines of the third verse: “Truly he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother; and in his name, all oppression shall cease.” This verse mirrored Dwight’s view of slavery in the South. He published his English translation of “O Holy Night” in his magazine, and the song quickly found favor in America, especially in the North, during the Civil War.
~ ~ ~
Our church performed the Christmas Concert one year. “O Holy Night” was one of the songs at the concert. I was privileged to sing this piece. As part of the concert, I sang the first verse of the song. A friend sent me the mp3 of the music and I made it into a video.
I want to thank Robbie Cheadle, who inspired me to make this video. When I posted the information about my Messiah performance last year, she mentioned she would like to hear me sing.
I also want to thank Diane Wallace Peach, who created the trailer for my poetry book, Song of Heartstrings: Poems of Gratitude and Beatitude. She inspired me to use PowerPoint to create to presentation and insert the music to create this video.
Christmas is an annual festival celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25th each year. Christmas is both a religious and cultural celebration observed by billions of people around the world, both Christian and non-Christian.
The observance of Christmas occurs in 160 countries worldwide and celebration varies by country. Some countries celebrate on Christmas Day or December 25th. Australia, New Zealand, Bolivia, South Africa, Argentina, and Madagascar celebrate Christmas in another month other than December.
Christmas celebrations around the world can vary greatly in Christmas traditions. They usually involve setting up a Christmas tree with lights, hanging Advent wreaths and stockings, candy canes. Churches and families set up nativity scenes depicting the birth of Jesus Christ. Families also send out Christmas cards, exchange gifts, and prepare a Christmas feast to share with their family or their extended families.
I have practiced the following traditions most of the years or done it in a different way as time changed in the recent years.
1. Send Christmas Cards or Letters
I wrote a Christmas letter one year to print it on the Christmas stationery. After that, I switched to sending photos. I picked photos that represented the major activities or events of that year and included descriptions of them. The first couple of years, I made a collage of photos with Publisher, saved it as Jpeg, made 5”x7” prints to send them out. Then I switched again to order the 5”x7” Christmas cards from Costco. For the last two years, I ordered two-sided cards.
2. Exchange gifts
My husband came from a large family. In the early years, instead of giving gifts to everyone, members of the extended family drew a name to be the receiver of the gift. The members of the immediate family, of course, exchanged gifts on their own. I bought gifts for my immediate family and wrapped them and put them under the tree. For the last five to seven years, I no longer bought gifts to send to my daughter’s family. Instead, I asked them what they would like to have for Christmas, then ordered them on Amazon, Macy’s, Columbia Sportswear, REI, or Sierra. The stores sent the gifts directly to them. If the clothes, shoes, or other items are not exactly right, they would return them, and I would order the right size until they’re happy with them. I don’t wrap Christmas gifts anymore.
3. Have a Christmas Dinner
Our extended family used to have the Christmas dinner on Christmas day around 1:00 p.m. After dinner, some members would go to visit their in-laws from another part of the town, or another state. After the children are grown and married, most of the members spend Christmas with their grown children and grandchildren. We don’t meet as a large family.
I have been going to Portland, Oregon for many years to spend Christmas with my daughter’s family and enjoy our time with the grandkids.
4. Advent/Christmas Countdown Activities
One friend brought a 2’x2’ wooden Advent calendar with drawers to a women’s meeting to share her tradition with us. She used this calendar for years during the growing-up years of her kids. She had age-appropriate activities for her four children. Another friend who was a teacher brought a 2D calendar to share what she did for her second-grade class for many years. Ideas such as filling 24 drawers with notes, candy, small toys, or keeping special ornaments in each box! For a 2D calendar, each day can be a window that opens to show the activity for that day.
5. Decorate a Christmas Tree
We’ve had a Christmas tree almost every year ever since we live in a house. We only have the artificial tree, though. When I first decorated a tree, I covered the entire tree with garlands and ornaments. Several years ago, my daughter inspired me to do it with minimal decorations. I like it. It leaves so much room to show the green. My daughter and her husband pick their tree either from the national forest or tree farm. People can get a permit from Recration.gov to purchase a permit. It cost $5 for a permit of each tree plus $2.5 for the online processing fee charged by the website.
I think they got their tree from a tree farm this year. Autumn and Nora had a great time helping to pick one.
6. Start a Holiday-Themed Collection
My sister-in-law collects snowmen. She hosts Thanksgiving dinner for many years. She put up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving to make the event festive. She decorated the entire house with snowmen, from ornaments to wall hangings, stuffed snowmen, snowman candles, to a ten feet tall figure. I collected Santa, angels, and nutcrackers, but didn’t go too far before I stopped.
7. Attend a Christmas show or see The Nutcracker Ballet
I have done both. We bought the season tickets to see the Broadway shows at Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater for many years. The Christmas show is always a heartwarming story of Mr. and Mrs. Santa. The last song is an invitation for all the kids to come on the stage with the help of the elves. Mr. and Mrs. Santa would pick the youngest kids to sit on their laps when they sing the last song.
When I was teaching, I took my students to see The Nutcracker ballet every year as one of my field trips. I teamed with another class to go to share the cost of the school buses. I also took my daughter to the theater to see The Nutcracker. When I stopped going to see it in the theater, my daughter and I still watched the DVD at home.
On Saturday, December 11, 2021, my daughter Mercy took her older daughter, Autumn, to see The Nutcracker. They’ll start a new tradition.
8. Watch a Christmas Movie
My favorite Christmas movies are White Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and The Polar Express. There are many newer Christmas movies. I don’t watch too many movies and I like these old ones so much that I seem to watch the same ones all the time.
9. Visit Christmas Lights, before or after Christmas
Since 1932, each house on Peacock Lane – Christmas Street, in Southeast Portland Oregon, has been decorating for Christmas. The residents of Peacock Lane are happy to share that they will display their lights from December 15th – December 31st. For safety reasons, the Portland Police may shut down the Lane to motor vehicle traffic. My husband and I joined my daughter’s family to stroll up and down Peacock Lane one year. Each house had themed light decorations. The address is SE Peacock Lane, Portland, OR 97214.
For the last four years, except in 2020, my husband and I went to Newport Beach to take a cruise to watch the Christmas Boat Parade.
10. Build a Gingerbread House
One year, our church fellowship group had the Christmas catering dinner at a retirement facility. Every year the chef starts months before the season to use his own time to build the Gingerbread Village. He built one house at a time, and the trees, the decorations, and put them in the freezer. Right after Thanksgiving, he would set up the village and add the operatable train. The residents and visitors admired this creation with wonder.
My daughter built a Gingerbread house with Autumn. I know many families do this activity with their kids.
~ ~ ~
You may have practiced some Christmas traditions for years, but you no longer keep them because of life changes. You may still keep some, or you want to start a new one. How about traditions your parents had? How about traditions your grown children have with their families?
Please describe them and share them with us in the comments. Thank you!
This year, my husband and I cancelled our trip to be with my daughter’s beautiful family. I know this social distancing is a temporary condition.
The State of California is in a worse than ever situation at the present. Many hospitals ran out of ICU beds. The news on Saturday, December 19, said that if someone had an accident or heart attack, the hospitals may not treat them because there were no rooms in the ER. Many families will suffer the losses of their loved ones to this horrible disease. We remember them in our thoughts and prayers.
The United States on Monday, December 14 administered the first shots of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine to health-care workers, marking a pivotal moment in the country’s long march to bring the virus under control. Initial shipments of the second vaccine Moderna authorized in the U.S. left a distribution center Sunday, December 20 and the first shots were administered on Monday, December 21. About 20 million of people in the US will receive vaccination by the end of the year. Combining the two vaccines, there will be 400 million shots for 200 million people available by the end of July 2021. Help is on the way!
We look forward to a better, healthier, brighter, and shiner 2021!
Here are two more of my favorite Christmas music.
Winchester Cathedral Choir performed For Unto Us a Child Is Born from Handel’s Messiah
O Holy Night. Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral Choir
Stay safe and enjoy your beautiful holidays wherever you are!
Silent Night is one of my favorite Christmas Carols. I would like to review some of the stories behind this 202 years old popular Christmas music.
“Silent Night” (German: Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht) is a popular Christmas Carol. The lyrics were written by Joseph Mohr in Salzburg, Austria. The melody was composed by Franz Xaver Gruber, schoolmaster and organist in the nearby village of Arnsdorf.
Before Christmas Eve, Mohr brought the words to Gruber and asked him to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment. The first performance of the carol was on December 24, 1818, in the Christmas Eve mass.
Over the years, because the original manuscript had been lost, Mohr’s name was forgotten and although Gruber was known to be the composer, many people assumed the melody was composed by a famous composer, and it was variously attributed to Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven. However, a manuscript was discovered in 1995 in Mohr’s handwriting and dated by researchers as c. 1820. It states that Mohr wrote the words in 1816 when he was assigned to a pilgrim church in Mariapfarr, Austria, and shows that the music was composed by Gruber in 1818. This is the earliest manuscript that exists and the only one in Mohr’s handwriting. (Source)
The Story of the World War IChristmas Truce of 1914 by Naina Bajekal
In 1914, just a few months into a war, Pope Benedict XV, who took office that September, had originally called for a Christmas truce, an idea that was officially rejected. Yet it seems the sheer misery of daily life in the cold, wet, dull trenches was enough to motivate troops to initiate the truce on their own…
It’s hard to pin down exactly what happened. A huge range of differing oral accounts, diary entries and letters home from those who took part make it virtually impossible to speak of a “typical” Christmas truce as it took place across the Western front… Nevertheless, some two-thirds of troops — about 100,000 people — are believed to have participated in the legendary truce…
Most accounts suggest the truce began with carol singing from the trenches on Christmas Eve, “a beautiful moonlit night, frost on the ground, white almost everywhere”, as Pvt. Albert Moren of the Second Queens Regiment recalled. Graham Williams of the Fifth London Rifle Brigade described it in even greater detail:
“First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing – two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.”
The next morning, in some places, German soldiers emerged from their trenches, calling out “Merry Christmas” in English. Allied soldiers came out warily to greet them. In others, Germans held up signs reading “You no shoot, we no shoot.” Over the course of the day, troops exchanged gifts of cigarettes, food, buttons, and hats. The Christmas truce also allowed both sides to finally bury their dead comrades, whose bodies had lain for weeks on “no man’s land,” the ground between opposing trenches.
I chose this arrangement of Silent Night performed by the Winchester Cathedral Choir on December 27, 2010
This week I present another of my favorite Christmas music/dance/movie
Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, October 1954
Having left the Army following W.W.II, Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) team up to become a top song-and-dance act. Davis plays matchmaker and introduces Wallace to a pair of beautiful sisters (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy Haynes (Vera-Ellen) who also have a song-and-dance act. When Betty and Judy travel to a Vermont lodge to perform a Christmas show, Wallace and Davis follow, only to find their former commander, General Waverly, as the lodge owner, who, they learn, is having financial difficulties; his quaint country inn is failing. So, what’s the foursome to do but plan a yuletide miracle: a fun-filled musical extravaganza that’s sure to put Waverly and his business in the black!
The Story Behind “White Christmas”
The White Christmas first aired during the Kraft Music Hall radio show December 25, 1941. Then-host, Bing Crosby, crooned the carol which is special at the time. Pearl Harbor had been attacked just a few weeks before.
It turns out, the song has a sad back story too. It was written by Irving Berlin, a Russian-born immigrant who did not celebrate Christmas, as he was Jewish.
Berlin’s three-week-old son had died on Christmas day in 1928, so every year on December 25, he and his wife visited their baby’s grave.
He wrote “White Christmas” for a musical that eventually morphed into the movie Holiday Inn and ended up winning an Academy Award for the song. In 1954, it became the title track of another Bing Crosby Christmas musical, White Christmas.
Crosby’s rendition quickly became an American favorite. It was constantly requested by troops during Bing’s USO appearances overseas, which gave the singer some mixed feelings. He didn’t want to come that far to make them sad. For this reason, several times he tried to cut it out of the show, but these guys just hollered for it. Clearly, they identified with the wistful lyrics about holidays at home. Since then, “White Christmas” has been an all-time favorite.