Music of the Nativity

Medieval sheet music

Holy family Nativity setThis year, as you put the finishing touches on your home’s outdoor Nativity set display, take a mental survey: name five of your favorite Christmas songs. Chances are, the short list would include at least a few of these seasonal favorites:

  • “Jingle Bells”
  • “White Christmas”
  • “Winter Wonderland”
  • “The Christmas Song”
  • “Baby It’s Cold Outside”
  • “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”
  • “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer”
  • “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”

John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” (1971) might also make the list, vying with Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” (1979). On that list there might even be The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York,” which in various polls has been cited as the favorite Christmas song of all time in the U.K. and Ireland!

The funny thing is this—none of these aforementioned songs has much to do with Christmas per se. Yes, these non-liturgical songs may mention Santa Claus, winter weather, romance, and longing for one’s family during the holiday season, and they may all be enjoyable and appropriate for the season; but they barely allude, if at all, to the core narrative underlying all Christmas celebrations, namely, the birth of Jesus of Nazareth in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. In other words, the first Nativity.
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Giant Toy Soldiers and the World of Christmas

Toy soldiers

Hear them all cheering,
Now they are nearing,
There’s the captain stiff as starch.
Bayonets flashing,
Music is crashing,
As the wooden soldiers march;
Sabers a-clinking,
Soldiers a-winking,
At each pretty little maid…
Here they come! Here they come!
Here they come! Here they come!
Wooden soldiers on parade.

— English song lyrics by Ballard MacDonald
for “The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers”


People “of a certain age” (and by that we mean ones who are old) and with good memories can pinpoint the exact moment and surrounding circumstances signaling the official start of the holiday season that stretches from Thanksgiving to Christmas. These clues could be visual in nature, such as the sudden appearance of life-size Nativity scenes on church lawns, colorful Christmas lights adorning trees and lamp posts, or giant toy soldiers keeping guard in front of decorated homes. Or the clues could be olfactory: the smell of a turkey roasting in the oven, the aroma of eggnog, and the fragrance of cinnamon and gingerbread permeating the house. They could be auditory as well, with sleighbells ringing and carolers singing. All of these sensations elicit the sweet, nostalgic feelings most people experience at Christmastime.

But for some older grownups, the one sure sign in yesteryear that the holiday season had officially started would be the annual broadcast of the 1934 Laurel & Hardy feature film, Babes in Toyland. In the pre-cable era, this film became a popular holiday staple, broadcast repeatedly throughout the 1960s and 1970s on numerous TV stations across the United States during the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season. In the U.S., it was often shown under an alternate title: March of the Wooden Soldiers.

Many young fans of the comic duo always looked forward to this annual showing of Babes in Toyland—not only because it was fun to watch (the stop-action animated toy soldiers were a hoot, but Stan Laurel always stole the show), but because it had become a tradition that meant Christmas was just around the corner.

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Christmas Means Decorating

christmas

The Christmas season is upon us and, ho ho ho, it’s time for decorating.  The main event for many of us is a Christmas tree, which can be real, meaning it was once alive, or artificial.  There are a variety of options for real trees.  And within each class of tree, there are choices as well.  Fir trees, for example, include: Balsam, Fraser, Canaan and Douglas to name a few.   Some real tree enthusiasts remain steadfastly loyal to Spruce or Pine.  Because a tree purchased from a lot may shed its needles before the New Year, some people cut down their tree.  Today, many tree farms allow you to roam around the selection of trees in the Fall and label your tree for cutting in December.  This eliminates all those freezing ventures, stomping through deep snow, trying to select just the right one.  Most of us who’ve cut down our own tree have not experienced an adventure equal to that of the Griswald family.

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Don’t Let the Coronavirus Steal Christmas

outdoor nativity

This Christmas season, the Coronavirus could be a metaphor for the cantankerous protagonist in Dr. Suess’s book How The Grinch Stole Christmas.  The Grinch is an unhappy creature with a heart “two sizes too small” wanting to ensure that everyone feels as lonely as he, which isn’t too far from reality right now. The Coronavirus is an insidious virus made up of spike proteins that act like grappling hooks, ensuring practically everyone who comes in contact with it gets sick. Yikes!  Well we know what to do about the virus, but what about feeling woeful about Christmas?  Maybe Dr. Suess’s book can give us direction.

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A Brief History of Christmas Carols

Santa Claus with Jingle Bells carol sheet music

There was a boy singing a Christmas Carol at my door last night. I should like to have given him something.

— Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol


Of all the Christian holidays, Christmas must be the most sociable. Since at least Victorian times (and certainly before) it has been a season for family and friends to spend time together and engage in joyful group activities. And one of the most joyful of those activities is the making of music and the singing of holiday songs by outdoor Christmas carolers.

Imagine Christmastime without music or carols. It just wouldn’t be the same. And yet, ironically, in the very earliest years of Christianity there was no Christmastime to speak of, much less music to celebrate it. Easter—commemorating the miraculous resurrection of the crucified Jesus—was the main holiday of devout Christians. The birth of Jesus, by comparison, seemed an unimportant affair and simply was not celebrated.

In the fourth century, however, church officials decided to proclaim the birth of Jesus as a holiday. The history behind that proclamation illustrates the genius of Roman Catholicism for incorporating secular, pagan traditions into its religious rituals. One of those is the tradition of caroling.

Carol sheet music, The First Noël
The First Nowell from an 1879 book by Henry Ramsden Bramley
(Source)

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Historical Origins of Outdoor Nativity Scenes

Outdoor Nativity scene

 

“All cultures…have grown out of myths. They are founded on myths. What these myths have given has been inspiration for aspiration.”
— Joseph Campbell, Mythology and the Individual (1997)


From church iconography to Easter baskets, from Yule logs to small indoor crèches and huge outdoor Nativity sets, the backstories behind the outward manifestations of Christian belief, in all their rich variety, remain a source of endless historical interest, and not a little speculation. Continue reading “Historical Origins of Outdoor Nativity Scenes”

Different Ways to Decorate Buildings

While homes seem to lend themselves naturally to Christmas decorations, decking out a building can seem like an insurmountable challenge. It’s not. The key to effectively decorating buildings is to ensure you match the size and scope of the building with the décor. Check out some ideas on different ways to decorate buildings we put together here at Christmas Night Inc.

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Create Your Own Christmas Light Show

One of the most fantastic elements of the holidays is all the glimmering, shimmering, brilliant lights, and you can create your own Christmas light show in your very own yard. These tips from Christmas Night Inc. outline how.

Sketch an Overview of Your Yard

Creating a rough yet accurate sketch of your yard gives you a bird’s eye view of how much room you have to work with. It also provides a working draft of all the different areas you want to cover. Once you have an overview of how much space you want to fill and elements you want to light, you can more easily assess how many larger light displays and what type of backdrop lighting will produce the most dramatic effects.

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The Best Collectible Christmas Gifts

While giving Christmas gifts like socks and candies may be useful and delicious, neither one is going to be around for the long haul. Collectible Christmas gifts, on the other, can be enjoyed for years to come. Collectibles refer to gifts that are beloved, cherished, passed down through the generations, and may often align with a specific theme as part of a larger collection. We here at Christmas Night Inc. are big fans of collectible Christmas gifts of all sorts and sizes, and we gathered up the best collectible Christmas gifts to share with you.

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