Saturday, December 24, 2011
Who Was King Wenceslas & What the Heck Is Figgy Pudding?
When I realized it was my turn to blog on Christmas Eve, I wanted to do something different than merely wishing everyone Merry Christmas, although I do wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. My local paper had an article about Christmas carols, and voila! I knew what I would write about. Enjoy.
Who Was King Wenceslas and What the Heck Is Figgy Pudding?
The Scoop On Your Favorite Christmas Carols
Have you ever wondered, as I have, about the origins of some of our most beloved Christmas songs, and about some of the strange words and phrases in those songs? Wonder no more. Here's the inside story.
"Good King Wenceslas"
'Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about,
Deep and crisp and even.'
King Wenceslas was born into the royal Premysl dynasty in what is now the Czech Republic. His grandmother was murdered by an anti-Christian group, of which his mother was a member. The good king himself was murdered by his brother in 929. Not so cheery, huh? Wenceslas was named a saint and his feast day is celebrated on Dec. 26, also the feast of St. Stephen.
"We Wish You a Merry Christmas"
'Oh, bring us a figgy pudding,
Oh, bring us a figgy pudding,
Oh, bring us a figgy pudding,
And a cup of good cheer.'
Figgy pudding is a steamed English dessert, better known as plum pudding, that dates back to sixteenth century England. It's not anything like Jell-O. It's made with dried fruit and figs, hence the name. At one time it also included suet, the white fat found around kidneys and loins in cattle and sheep.
"It's Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas"'
A Pair of Hopalong boots and a pistol that shoots
Is the wish of Barney and Ben.
Dolls that will talk and will go for a walk
Is the hope of Janice and Jen.'
Any boomers out there? Do you remember Hopalong Cassidy, the cowboy? I loved him. Watched his show every week. Had a crush on his cute sidekick, Lucky. Did you know the Hopalong boots in this song referred to Hopalong Cassidy? I didn't. I don't even know most of the words so missed the Hopalong reference all together.
"Mistletoe and Holly"
'Oh by gosh, by golly, it's time for mistletoe and holly,
Tasty pheasants, Christmas presents,
Countrysides covered with snow.'
The use of mistletoe and holly goes back to our pagan past. Pagans believed mistletoe, holly and ivy protected us from evil spirits and also encouraged the return of spring.
"Here We Come A-Wassailing"
'Love and joy comes to you,
And to your wassail too.
And God bless you
And send you a Happy New Year.'
Anyone ever seen a wassail? Me neither. Sounds like a furry little animal. A wassail is a drink, warm mulled ale or wine. Yum. Perfect for sipping on cold Christmas Eves. The word comes from an old Anglo-Saxon toast, "Waes hael," meaning to be in good health. Now you know what a wassail is.
"The Christmas Song"'
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
Jack Frost nipping at your nose,
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir,
And folks dressed up like Eskimos.'
I think we all know what a roasted chestnut is. I've never tasted one, but I hear it's low-fat and tastes more like a sweet potato than a nut. I've seen vendors on Philadelphia sidewalks selling roasted chestnuts, but I've never had the inclination to try one.
"Auld Lang Syne"
'Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And days of auld lang syne."
What the heck does all that mean? No one is sure. The poet Robert Burns put the words to paper in the eighteenth century. The song likely has its roots in Scottish literature. Roughly translated, auld lang syne means "the good old days."
"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"
'Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer,
Had a very shiny nose,
And if you ever saw it,
You would even say it glows.'
Rudolph was created in 1939 by a copywriter for the Montgomery Ward department stores. Gene Autry was approached to record the song but didn't want to. His wife talked him into it. The rest, as they say, is history.
Last by not least -
"Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer"
'She'd been drinking too much eggnog,
And we begged her not to go.
But she left her medication,
So she stumbled out the door
Into the snow.'
Don't you love this song? Makes no sense, but it's such fun. Does anyone still drink eggnog in these more health-conscious times? I used to enjoy eggnog (without the alcohol) when I was a child. No way would I touch the artery-clogging stuff now. But that's just me. If you enjoy it, especially with a little Irish whiskey, go for it.
In the words of Tiny Tim, "God bless us, everyone."
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I raise a goblet of wassail and a cup of eggnog to one and all.