ARTICLES

TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS

December 17 1960
ARTICLES

TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS

December 17 1960

TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS

Christmas has never been a one-day feast. From the time early Christians began to celebrate the birthday of Jesus, some time in the fourth century AD, they have always carried on the festivity to the day of the Epiphany, when Christ was revealed to the Three Wise Men who symbolize the world of the Gentiles. There were more than religious reasons for this. Men had been celebrating the winter solstice for thousands of years, feasting and making merry to coax the ailing sun back to health and vigor. (It always worked, too—by the end of the riotous festival, the days began to grow visibly longer.) It was to make these revels respectable that the winter solstice was chosen as the feast of Christ's Nativity. Nobody knows the day or year when Jesus was born—possibly in March of 7 BC, by historical evidence—but this dark-nighted period has been His festival for at least sixteen centuries. On the following four pages is a gallery of twelve days of Christmas from the last eight hundred years, selected by Shirley Mair

December 25

1170

PRELUDE TO MARTYRDOM Thomas Bechet's last sermon

The most illustrious of English martyrs, Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, preached his last sermon on Christmas Day 1170, four days before he was murdered in his cathedral by four knights of Henry II’s court.

The text was appropriate to the day —Luke 11:14: ‘‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” but Becket’s sermon was not. He began with a prophecy that he would soon be murdered, sobbed through most of his delivery, and so affected his congregation that "all through the church you might see and hear lamentations and the flowing of tears, with murmurs of ‘Father, why dost Thou forsake us so soon?’ and ‘To whom dost Thou leave us desolate?’ ” Then, quite suddenly, Becket’s mood changed. He became "fierce, indignant, fiery and bold,” and thundered sentences of excommunication on five of his enemies.

This account comes to us from Herbert of Bosham, an early biographer. Another chionicle is that of a young Cambridge monk, Edward Grim, who was an eyewitness to the murder of Thomas à Becket and who himself was wounded trying to save the archbishop. The second of the four assassins laid open Grim’s arm to the bone, with the same sword thrust that pierced Becket’s skull. Here is Grim’s report of Becket’s Christmas sermon, translated from his Latin text:

“On the day of the Lord’s nativity, just as Becket had ended his address to the people, he condemned with a dreadful judgment one of the King’s men, who on the previous day had cut down the archbishop’s servants and also docked the tails of his horses .... At the same time he punished Ranulph de Broc, who was the instigator of all the mischief .... He denounced before the people three priests, adding instructions that nobody was to hold communication with such people . . . . Finally he said, ‘Let them be cursed by Jesus Christ and let the remembrance of them be blotted out from the company of the saints; that is to say whoever shall sow hatred or discord between the king and myself.’ ”

December 26

1445

The long roisterous tradition of the Feast of Fools

The Feast of Fools was a rip-roaring Christmas celebration among the minor clergy in medieval France—the only day in the year when priests, deacons, sub-deacons and choirboys could shrug off their humble chores and gather to feast and carol and carouse. Late in the fifteenth century, church leaders were forced to outlaw the Feast of Fools altogether. They had ample reason: In 1445, forty years before the bishops took this drastic step, they received this letter from the Paris college of theology:

‘‘Priests and clerks may be seen wearing masks and monstrous visages at the hours of office. They dance in the choir dressed as women, panders or minstrels. They sing wanton songs. They eat black puddings at the horn of the altar while the celebrant is saying Mass. They play at dice there. They cense with stinking smoke from the soles of old shoes. They run and leap through the church, without a blush at their own shame. Finally they drive about the town and theatres in shabby traps and carts and rouse the laughter of their fellows and the bystanders in infamous performances, with indecent gestures and verses, scurrilous and unchaste.”

December 25

1492

The tranquil wreck of the Santa María

On Christmas Eve, Christopher Columbus was sailing off Santo Domingo. His destination was a Christmas dinner, his host-to-be, one of the island's native kings.

The account below is third-hand. Columbus’ own diary is lost, but it was seen by a Spanish historian, Bartolomé de las Casas, who wrote an abstract of the journal in the sixteenth century. It was translated into English in 1947 by Clements R. Markham. “Navigating yesterday with little wind from Santo Tomé to Punta Santa, and being a league from it, at about eleven o'clock at night the Admiral went down to get some sleep, for he had not had any rest for two days and a night. As it was calm, the sailor who steered the ship thought he would go to sleep leaving the tiller in charge of a boy. The Admiral had forbidden this throughout the voyage. It pleased our Lord that at twelve o’clock at night the current carried the ship on one of the sand banks. If it had not been night that bank could have been seen and the surf on it could be heard for a good league. But the ship ran upon it so gently that it could scarcely be felt. The boy. who felt the helm and heard the rush of the sea. cried out. The Admiral at once came up. Presently the master of the ship, whose watch it was, came on deck. The Admiral ordered him and others to launch the boat, which was on the poop, and lay out an anchor astern. The master, with several others, got into the boat, and the Admiral thought that they did so with the object of obeying his orders. But they did so in order to take refuge on the caravel, which was half a league to the leeward. When the Admiral saw that his own people lied in this way. the water rising and the ship being across the sea. seeing no other course, he ordered the mast to be cut away and the ship to be lightened as much as possible, to sec if she would come off. But as the water continued to rise, nothing more could be done. Her side fell over across the sea. Then the timbers opened and the ship was lost.”

Before the Santa Maria broke up completely, Columbus retreated to the Niña. At daybreak he was on deck, working out a new role for his wrecked flagship. On January 4, 1493, when Columbus set sail for Spain, forty-four of the crew waved him goodbye from a fort built from the Santa Maria’s timbers. The fort was named La Navidad, in memory of Columbus’ first Christmas Eve in the new world.

December 25

1495

Henry VIFs anti-gambling edict:

"A statute forbade card-playing save during

the Christmas holidays”

“A universal Christnuts custom of the old time iras playing at cards; persons u'ho never touched a card at any other season of the year felt bound to play a few games at Christmas. The practice had even the sanction of law. A prohibitory statute of Henry VI Fs reign forbade cardplaying save d u r i n g the C h r is t m a s holidays.’’ So irrites a historian of Henry’s reign. What the historian didn’t mention was that Henry held himself aloof from his own law. In H95, when he passed the edict, it limited card-playing only a in o n g “servants, apprentices and mean people.’’ Henry enjoyed cards far too much to give them up. If he had, he would have displeased his future son-in-law, James IV of Scotland, who often kept the king’s eldest daughter, Margaret, waiting while he finished a game of cards.

December 25

1657

Christmas under Cromwell

John Euelyn is arrested for going to church

A wealthy English landowner, John Evelyn, started a diary in 1640, when he was twenty and Charles I was on the throne of Britain. For the next sixty-six years, until his death in 1706, Evelyn set down the comings and goings of five British monarchies and one commonwealth—Oliver Cromwell's. Here is his description of a Christmas under Cromwell.

“25th December. I went to London with my wife to celebrate Christmas-dav, Mr. Gunning preaching in Exeter chapel on Michah VII 2. Sermon ended, as he was giving us the Holy Sacrament, the chapel was surrounded by soldiers, and all the communicants and assembly surprised and kept prisoners by them, some in the house, others carried away. It fell to my share to be confined to a room in the house, where yet I was permitted to dine with the masters of it, the Countess of Dorset, Lady Hatton and some others of quality who invited me. In the afternoon, came Colonel Whalley, Goffe and others from Whitehall, to examine us, one by one. Some they committed to the Marshall, some to prison. When I came before them, they took my name and abode, examined me why, contrary to the ordinance made, that none should any longer observe the superstitious time of Nativity (so esteemed by them), I durst offend and particularly to be at Common Prayers, which they told me was but the Mass in English, and particularly pray for Charles Stuart; for which we had no Scripture. 1 told them we did not pray for Charles Stuart, but for all Christian Kings, Princes and governors. They replied, in so doing we prayed for the King of Spain, too, who was their enemy and a Papist, with other frivolous and ensnaring questions, and much threatening; and finding no colour to detain me, they dismissed me with much pity of my ignorance. These were men of high flight and above ordinances, and spake spiteful things of our Lord’s Nativity. As we went up to receive the Sacrament, the miscreants held their muskets against us, as if they would have shot us at the altar; but yet suffering us yet to finish the office of Communion, as perhaps not having instructions what to do, in case they found us in that action. So I got home late the next day; blessed by God!”

December 25

1662

Christmas after Cromwell

Samuel Pepys is slightly bored by piety

“Bishop Morley preached upon the song of the Angels. Clory be to Cod on high. (Ui earth peace, and good will towards men. Met bought he made but a poor sermon, but long and reprehending the common jollity of the Court for the true joy that shall and ought to be on these days, he particularized concerning their excess in playes and gaming, saying that he whose office it is to keep the gamesters in order and within bounds, serves but for a second rather in a duell, meaning the groome-porter. I pon which it was worth observing how far they are come from taking the reprehensions of a bishop seriously, that they all laugh in chapel when he reflected on their ill actions and courses. He did much press us to joy in these public days of joy, and to hospitality; but one that stood by whispered in my care that the Bishop did not spend one groate to the poor himself.”

-SAMUEL PEPYS’S DIARY

December 25

1773

Why gentlemen rested merrie: Parson Woodforde’s Christmas menu at Oxford

Two years Before the accession of George III to the throne of Britain, James Woodforde Itcgan an almost daily record of hiown life; first as an Oxford student, later as siih warden of an Oxford college and subsequently aa country parson. The diary spans the years between ITóf! and 1H03. It startathe Seven Years’ War was in progress and takes in \\ ¡Iliam Bill’s ministries and the American War of Independence. Woodforde gives these historic events only brief mention. Outside events did not infringe on the life of a quiet country clergyman in eighteenth century Kngland.

“I invited the Warden to dine with lias is usual on this day. hut his Sister being here, could not. We had a \er> handsome dinner of my ordering, as I order dinner every day being SubWarden. We had for dinner. 2 fine Codds. boiled with fryed Souls round them and oyster sauce, a line sirloin of Beef rosted. some peas soup, and an orange Budding for the first course, for the Second, we had a lease of W iId ducks rosted. a fore Qu: of Lamb and sallad and mince Bies. We had a grace cup before the second course brought by the Butler to the Steward of the Hall who was Mr. Adams a Senior Fellow, who got out of his place and came to my chair and there drank me out of it, wishing me a Merry Xmas. I then took it of him and drank wishing him the same, and then it went around, three standing all the time. From the High Table the grace cup goes to the Batchelors and Scholars. After tlie second course there was a fine plumb cake brought to I lie senr Table as is usual on this day. which also goes to the Batchelors after. After Grace is said there is another (¡race Cup to drink omnibus Wiccamisis. which is drunk as the first, only the steward of the Hall doenot attent the second (¡race Cup . . . We dined at 3 o'clock and were an hour and at it. We all then went into the Senr Com: Room, where the Warden came to us and sat with us till Bravers. The wine drunk by the Senr Fellows, domus pays for. Bravers this evening did not begin till (t o’clock at which I attended as did the Warden . . . X.B. But on this Day a new coat and waistcoat for the first time."

December 2U

1818

The forgotten collaborators who wrote Silent Night

By the middle of the last century, Silent Night was probably the best loved of all Christmas carols, but nobody could really remember who had written the simple melody and timeless words. In 1854, under the hazy idea that it had been written by a Haydn (a hazy idea a lot of people still have), the court musicians of Berlin wrote to the church authorities in Salzburg, Austria, asking to see the Michael Haydn manuscript.

Michael Haydn was composer Joseph’s younger brother, and musical director to the archbishop of Salzburg, but he was not the composer of the famous carol, (’redit for that belonged to Franz Gruber, tho father of one of the archbishop’s choirboys.

The choirboy heard about the Berlin request and quickly passed the news on to his father. Gruber had waited a long time to tell his story. He lost no more in sending this blunt statement to the Berlin court:

DECEMBER 30, 1854

Authentic Occasion for the Writing of the Christmas Song, Silent Night, Holy Night.

It was on December 24, of the year 1818, when Joseph Mohr, then assistant pastor of the newly established St. Nicholas’ parish church in Oberndorf, handed to Franz Gruber, who was attending the duties of organist (and was at the same time a schoolmaster in Arnsdorf) a poem, with the request that he write for it a suitable melody arranged for two solo voices, chorus and guitar accompaniment. On that very same evening the latter handed to the pastor his simple composition, which was thereupon immediately performed on that holy night of Christmas Eve and received with all acclaim. As this Christmas song has come into the Tyrol through the well-known Zillthaler and since it has also appeared in a somewhat altered form in a collection of songs in Leipzig, the composer has the honor to dare to place beside it the original.

FRANZ (¡KUUF.K. TOWN PARISH CHOIR DIRLCTOR AND ORGANIST, HA I LI-.IN.

Gruber failed to let the Berlin court in on one essential detail—the reason for hastily writing “a suitable melody arranged for two solo voices, chorus and guitar accompaniment.” The answer was simple: their church organ had broken down just a few hours before Christmas Eve service was to begin.

December 25

1869

Louis Riel's not-so-tender mercy

R. I*. Ottewell spent Christinas 1869 in Louis Riel's jail at Fort Garry, in what the next year became the province of Manitoba. He'd been Riel's prisoner since early December, when he'd been ambushed while crossing the Red River. In fact, the ambush was unnecessary. Ottewell, along with the rest of a government road gang, was headed for the fort anyway. The lieutenant-governor of Rupert's Land, William McDougall, had sent them orders to report at the fort for active duty.

Ottewell recalled later that most of the construction gang spent Christmas as Riel's prisoners — in the fort McDougall had hoped to use for a stronghold. Here's his record of that Christmas Day:

“Christmas day dawned cold and gloomy. We did not lack company, as there were forty-five of us in a very small room.

“After breakfast we chatted about the folks hack home and plump turkeys and puddings and tried to forget our monotonous diet of dry pemniican and water, but suddenly one of Riel's men brought before us a steaming washboiler of hot coffee, and sugar and milk, along with a elothesbasket brimming with delicious buttered buns. This meal was kindly prepared by Mrs. Charles Major, Mrs. George Young and Mrs. Crowson. They hail received permission from Riel to make our Christmas more cheerful.

“I will never forget that hot coffee, it was so refreshing and stimulating. The buns seemed just to hit the right spot. This tasty meal gave us fresh courage, as it let us know that someone was thinking of us ami was interested in our case.

“All afternoon we carried buckets of water from the Red River to the fort. For what good reason did not appear, but I think to this day that the rebels made us carry it through sheer ugliness, as Riel emptied each bucket of water on the ground as it came.

“However, that night, as we went to bed on the usual damp floor, we dreamed of the delicious Christmas dinner we had enjoyed in Fort Garry, prisoners of Louis Riel."

December 25

1914

Good loill to all on the Western Front

Early in the evening of December 24, 1914. the first Christinas Eve of World War I. troops along Europe's Western Front clashed in fierce trench warfare. Eater that evening some soldiers wrapped their arms about the enemy and sang C hristmas carols.

Weeks later, when news of this incredible about-face filtered through to the two headquarters, neither side could get a full account of the fraternization episode. It seems to have started with irony: troops pausing to regroup for the next onslaught remembered it was Christmas Eve. and bellowed facetious greetings to the enemy. Quite unexpectedly, the hollow greetings established a bond between the battleworn armies. Ignoring the sounds of war around them, some began to sing Christmas carols. A few incautious men laid down their arms, crept out of their hiding places and crossed the corpse-strewn no man's-land to shake hands with the enemy. When Christmas Eve was over, a holiday spirit pervaded much of the line, and almost every trench had arranged a private ceasefire.

But it was more than a ceasefire. It was a full battlefield observance of the Christ -mas dictum, “On earth peace, good w ill toward men.” Throughout the day and well into the evening enemies shared cocoa and cigarettes, talked of home, and momentarily forgot the war. No word of this got into the official dispatches, and the British were careful to forget a football game that they'd promoted w ith a German regiment . . . they were beaten 3-2. and the drubbing spurred a normally proper English colonel to try for a truce on New Year's Day so the British could get in a return match. An entire German regiment ambled over to a Scottish-held trench on Christmas morning, unperturbed by volleys of warning shots, aimed just over its head. A frantic Scottish officer reinforced the volleys by pleading. "If you don't intend to fight, at least you could pretend to." But the cheerful Germans wouldn't hear of fighting, and when they had assembled around the lip of the British trench, one German soldier looked down and said, “You are of the same religion, and today is the day of peace.” "Well." replied th.e baffled Scottish officer, “at least it's a triumph for the church."

If it was a triumph, it was a temporary one. Christinas evening at nine o'clock, or midnight, depending on when the individually arranged truces came to an end. the soldiers on the Western Front shook hands, laid down their good will and climbed down into their trenches, to kill or be killed a day behind schedule.

December 25

¼,, f~

What Stephen Leacock wanted from Santa Claus for the fourth Christmas of World War II

Give we back, will you. that pretty little framed certificate called Belief in Humanity; you remember—you gave them to ever so many of us children to hang up beside our beds. ÏMter on / took mine out to look what was on the back of it. and I couldn't get it back in the frame and lost it.

Well. I'd like that and—oh, can I have a new League of Nations? You know, all set up on a rack that opens in and ont. I broke the old one because I didn't know how to work it. but I'd like to try again. And may I have a brand new Magna Carta, and a Declaration of the Rights of Man and a Sermon on the Mount?

And I'd like if you don't mind, though of course it's more in the way of a toy. a little Jack-in-the-box. one with a little Adolf Hitler in it. No, honestly. I wouldn't hurt him: I'd just hook the lid and keep him for a curiosity.

I can't have it? Never mind.

Here, listen, this is what l want, Santa Claus, and here I'm speaking for all of us, millions and millions of us.

Bring us back the World We Had, and didn't value at its worth—the Universal Peace, the Good Will Towards Men—all that we had and couldn’t use and broke and threw away.

Give us that. This time tie'll really try.

Ktrplu'ii l.racick's list ln Santa « lau., «as iiiilinli-il in his hunk My Ktmark.iMc I'nilc, |Mih|i,lici| l>y MiI'klJaiul »V .Siruari I.ul.

December 25

I960

The variable spirit of Christmas present

The first Canadians to celebrate Christmas 19fi() will be missionaries, military personnel and weathermen, stranded at about twenty distant Arctic outposts on the rim of the continent, where the night Christmas falls on is six months long. Their celebration starts any time after the first evening of the full moon. December 2. That night, three RCA F living boxcars take off on an annual sentimental mission. Operation Santa Claus. They fly across the Arctic, parachuting loaded panniers of food. mail, gifts and even a Christmas tree to the lonely men on the frozen ground below.

George Armstrong, captain of the Toronto Maple l cal hockey team, won’t celebrate at all on Christmas Day. After Santa delivers presents to his three children on Christmas Eve. Armstrong will rush to Maple Teat Gardens and a game with the Detroit Red Wings. At one o'clock Christmas morning lie'll board a chartered flight for Boston and a game with the Bruins the same night. He'll be home early on Boxing Day and the family will finally be together to enjoy a leisurely Christmas dinner. They'd celebrate the dinner on Christmas Eve. but Armstrong can't eat turkey before a game.

The Rev. Morris Zeidman of Toronto is one man who'll get his share of turkey on the 25th. At ten o'clock in the morning he'll start to carve three hundred smoked pounds of it. Dr. Zeidman is the executive director of the Scott Mission, one of Canada's largest soup kitchens, but his destitute guests will be served a bountiful dinner. His menu reads: apple juice or tomato juice ("depending on what faith brings in"), vegetable soup with a chicken-broth base, buttered rolls, smoked turkey, mashed potatoes, carrots and peas, plum pudding or Christmas cake, ice cream, coflcc and chocolate bars or other sweets ("again depending on what faith brings in"). His guests w ill bring along paper bags so they can stock up on oranges and bread that Zeidman will leave in baskets at the door. Zeidman's colleagues, the Salvation Army, w ill be serving Christmas dinner to ten thousand Canadians on Boxing Day. On Christmas Day all officers from lieutenant up (the paid staff of the Army) will be away from their families. The men will visit the prisons: the women, hospitals.

On Christmas night. Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster, with five million other Canadians. will gather their families around the television to watch (who else?) Wayne and Shuster play Mother Goose. This is the third Christmas that the CBC has relied on the same show to send Christmas greetings across the land, and they say there’s no show during the year that's watched by so many Canadians.

Ami finally. Joseph Deslongchamps. believed to be Canada's only authentically bearded department-store Santa Claus, has gone into retirement this year. Deslongchamps. long a favorite of Montreal children, weakened during a summer heat wave and shaved off his beard.