I know you’ve been humming along to Christmas songs as you bound through the grocery and department stores trying to make a holiday happen.
But what do those songs mean? Here’s some vintage KidCulture posts (from last Christmas) explaining some of my favorite carols. Let me know if it clears up the mysteries for you.
I have loved to sing Christmas carols since I was a little kid but I confess a few songs have always mystified me. I’ve done a little research to explain some of the more perplexing lyrics. Along the way, I’ve also learned a lot about Christmas carols and their origins. Starting tomorrow, I will help clarify one carol – or lyric – each day as we countdown to Christmas on December 25.
Wassail can actually mean a toast, a revel, or a hot, spiced punch. It hails from an Old English phrase: “waes hael” which means “be well.” The lord of the manor would offer this toast and the crowd would reply, “drink and be healthy.”
“We Wish You A Merry Christmas” was always an interesting carol in my opinion. In what other carol is there such a blatant demand for a treat? But what really perplexed me was the demand for figgy pudding, particularly after I saw a picture of it. Read the song and see for yourself.
I know what you’re thinking. It’s quite a mental picture, but unfortunately it’s incorrect. This lyric comes from “Deck the Halls” and is pretty popular during the Christmas season.
In my research on Christmas carols, it’s been interesting to discover what an influence pagan – or pre-Christian – traditions had on the music we know and enjoy today. I’ve already written about the pre-Christian influence on “Deck the Halls” but it turns out that all Christmas carols derive from the pre-Christian tradition of a ring-dance, which were festive dances with singing and musical instruments.
I admit, I feel pretty cool when I sing Christmas carols in other languages – like I’ve accomplished something! “Adeste Fideles” is one of my favorites and not just because it’s in Latin.
Although it is not religious, “Petit Papa Noël” or “Little Santa Claus,” is the most popular carol in France. Here is the first verse and a translation.
Did you know that “Silent Night,” which was written in German as “Stille Nacht” has been translated into more than 300 languages, including Swahili and Maori? Check it out here.
Can you imagine celebrating Christmas during the summer? That would make it kind of hard to really enjoy singing “Winter Wonderland,” wouldn’t it?
Australians have adapted the holiday to suit their climate. Here’s the Australian version of “Jingle Bells.”
I admit it, “I Saw Three Ships” has me stumped. Try as I might, I could not find anyone who knew what this song was about. To the best of my knowledge, it’s a British song from the Victorian era and that’s the best I could do. If you know, feel free to chime in!
Turns out good King Wenceslas was a pretty cool guy. He was the King of Bohemia, which today is the Czech Republic. Raised by his grandmother, a devout Christian, he became king after overthrowing his mother who was acting as regent for Wenceslas because he was underage.
I never really connected with the story of the three kings, or magi, until I began to travel outside the United States. When you consider how difficult it is to travel – even in the 21st century – I think it gives you a greater appreciation for the three kings who made the journey to Bethlehem all those years ago. And if you have ever ridden a camel for longer than 15 minutes you will have even more respect for them!
That’s right, today I will tackle the big one: “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” This song has always bothered me – who would want all that crazy stuff and why would anyone give their true love all those birds?