Kids Ink: Christmas songs - loved, outlawed

December 18, 2009|By JEFF RIDGEWAY / Special to The Herald-Mail

St. Francis of Assisi introduced Christmas music to the church in the 13th century in the form of nativity plays. Though monks intoned chants relating to the nativity as early as the 6th century, some experts credit St. Francis with leading the first songs about the birth of Christ.

Christmas carols and songs have not always been popular. In the late 14th century, Chaucer's clerk in "The Canterbury Tales" sings a Christmas carol. The 14th century was also the time when Christmas carols gained popularity in Western Europe.

But in 1644, when Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans took over the English government, they outlawed Christmas celebrations. That ban was in effect until 1660. In the late 1600s, the Puritans forbade the celebration of Christmas in their colonies in North America. In the 1790s, during the French Revolution, Christmas celebrations were also forbidden in France.

In the 1840s, Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" breathed new life into the holiday. Later, during the reign of Queen Victoria, the British blended German and English customs and to a large degree created Christmas as we know it today.


During the American Civil War, Boston cartoonist Thomas Nast's drawings of Santa Claus established the look of the jolly old elf.

Today, we sing not only religious songs, but also nonreligious songs such as "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Jolly Old St. Nicholas" or "Frosty the Snowman."

Here are a selection of books at Washington County Free Library that celebrate the music that brings magic to Christmas.

"Cats and Carols" illustrated by Leslie Anne Ivory

Traditional Christmas Carols lavishly illustrated with paintings of cats.

"The Christmas Song: Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" by Mel Torme; illustrated by Doris Barrette

The classic 1940s lyrics are lushly illustrated to capture the heart of Christmas for kids from 1 to 92.

"The First Noel: A Child's Book of Christmas Carols to Play and Sing," published by DK Publishing

Thirteen classic carols accompanied by easy-to-follow musical arrangements for piano and guitar.

"Good King Wenceslas" by John M. Neale; illustrated by Tim Ladwing

The tale of a 10th-century king and his page who set out to help a poor man on a cold winter's night and experience a miracle.

"The Nutcracker," retold by Stephanie Spinner; illustrated by Peter Malone

This beautiful book includes a fully orchestrated CD of the score and invites children to dance, prance and relive the ballet long after the Christmas tree comes down.

"O Holy Night: Christmas with the Boys Choir of Harlem," illustrated by Faith Ringgold

This telling of the Christmas story according to the Gospel of Luke includes the words to five popular Christmas carols.

"The Season for Singing: American Christmas Songs and Carols," compiled by John Langstaff

This collection includes both traditional carols and some beautiful if less well-known songs.

"Silent Night, Holy Night" by Werner Thuswaldner; illustrated by Robert Ingpen

Complete with the comprehensive song lyrics, this beautifully illustrated and written story embodies peace, love and the spirit of Christmas itself.

"Tom Glazer's Christmas Songbook" by Tom Glazer; illustrated by Barbara Corrigan

An illustrated collection of nearly 40 songs and carols to help families celebrate the joy of Christmas.

"We Three Kings," illustrated by Olga Zharkova

A favorite carol that recounts the travels of the Magi using dynamic collages of torn and cut paper, full of rich, vibrant color and jubilant charm.

Christmas song quiz

How much do we really know about the Christmas carols we sing? Here is a quiz, with questions taken from a book called "Quizmas Carols" by Gordon Pape and Deborah Kerbel. How many answers do you know?

1. The word "carol" was derived from what language?

A. Dutch

B. Italian

C. Greek

2. What was caroling called before it was called caroling?

A. Chanting

B. Wassailing

C. Chorusing

3. In the most common version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas", what are there 11 of?

A. Maids

B. Lords

C. Pipers

4. Good King Wenceslas is the patron saint of what country?

A. Austria

B. Slovakia

C. Czech Republic

5. What carol did George Bernard Shaw describe as sounding like the "funeral march of a dead eel"?

A. "Silent Night"

B. "O Tannenbaum"

C. "Joseph Dearest, Joseph Mine"

6. What was the originally proposed name for the Christmas song "Silver Bells"?

A. "Winkle Bell"

B. "Ding-a-ling Bell"

C. "Tinkle Bell"

7. In the New Zealand version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas," what replaces "a partridge in a pear tree"?

A. A moa in a mamaku tree

B. A pukeko in a ponga tree

C. A kiwi in a kapuka tree

8. Which traditional carol is loo-loo'd by the Peanuts gang in the final scene of "Charlie Brown Christmas"?

A. "Deck the Halls"

B. "Hark the Herald Angels Sing"

C. "Away in a Manger"

9. Who recorded several songs based on Charles Schulz's comic strip dog, including the holiday tune, "Snoopy's Christmas"?

A. Dave Clark Five

B. Royal Guardsmen

C. Monkees

10: According to the lyrics of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," what three words best describe the Grinch?

A. Skink, Skank, Skunk

B. Slink, Slank, Slunk

C. Stink, Stank, Stunk

Answers: 1: C; 2: B; 3:C; 4: C; 5: B; 6: C; 7: A; 8: B; 9: B; 10: C

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