The Origins of 10 Popular Christmas Carols

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iStock.com/artisteer

You've sung them while clutching cups of hot cocoa, cozying up around a fire, or stomping through snowdrifts. You've heard them played in shopping malls, churches, and holiday parties. You know all their words by heart. But do you know how some of the world's best-known Christmas carols were created? 

1. "SILENT NIGHT"

The legend behind one of the most popular Christmas carols in the world plays out as a sort of Christmas miracle. The story goes that Father Joseph Mohr of Oberndorf, Austria, was determined to have music at his Christmas Eve service, even though the organ at his beloved St Nicholas Church was broken. So, he penned a poem and asked his friend Franz Gruber to compose a score for it that would not demand an organ. The truth; however, is a little less dramatic.

In 1816, the Catholic priest wrote the poem "Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!" while stationed at a pilgrim church in Mariapfarr, Austria. When he transferred to St. Nicholas's two years later, he did ask Gruber to help him write guitar music for the poem, which the two performed—backed by a choir—on Christmas Eve of 1818. "Silent Night" was translated into English more than 40 years later by Episcopal priest John Freeman Young, who is responsible for the version Americans favor. The song has been translated into 142 languages to date. 

2. "SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN"

Penned by James "Haven" Gillespie, this jolly tune was first performed on American singer Eddie Cantor's radio show in 1934. But for all its mirth, its inspiration came from a place of grief. In his book Stories Behind the Greatest Hits of Christmas, Ace Collins explains how Gillespie was a vaudevillian-turned-songwriter who'd fallen on hard times, both financially and personally. Gillespie got the call to pen a Christmas tune for Cantor just after learning his brother had died. 

Initially, he rejected the job, feeling too overcome with grief to consider penning a playful holiday ditty. But a subway ride recollecting his childhood with his brother and his mother's warnings that Santa was watching changed his mind. He had the lyrics in 15 minutes, then called in composer John Coots to make up the music that would become a big hit within 24 hours of its debut. 

3. "HARK! THE HERALD ANGELS SING"

The earliest incarnation of this carol was a poem penned in 1739 by Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. However, the original opening line as it appeared in his collection Hymns and Sacred Poems was "Hark how all the welkin rings," using a rarely invoked term for heaven. Anglican preacher and Wesley contemporary George Whitefield tweaked the opening line to the titular one we know today.   

In these early versions, "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" was sung to several different tunes, including "New Britain." The jauntier tempo it's sung to today came from German composer Felix Mendelssohn. More than 100 years after it was written, English musician William H. Cummings paired the carol to Mendelssohn's cantata Fetgesang. While this is the variant that has caught on, it is a development unlikely to be appreciated by Wesley or Mendelssohn. The former believed the hymn was best sung slowly, while the latter was a strictly secular musician.

4. "DECK THE HALLS"

This jaunty tune dates back to sixteenth century Wales, where its melody and much of the lyrics were pinched from the New Year's Eve song "Nos Galan." Lines like "Oh! how soft my fair one's bosom/ Fa la la la la la la la la," were transformed into Yuletide wishes like "Deck the halls with boughs of holly/ 
Fa la la la la la la la la." This musical makeover was done by Scottish folk music scribe Thomas Oliphant, who built his reputation on old melodies with new lyrics. In 1862, his "Deck the Hall" was published in Welsh Melodies, Vol. 2. He'd go on to become a renowned translator of songs as well as a lyricist for the court of Queen Victoria. 

But Oliphant's version is not the one most commonly sung today. Now called "Deck the Halls," lines like "Fill the meadcup, drain the barrel," have been swapped for "Don we now our gay apparel." This variant became popular from revised music sheet printings made in 1877 and 1881.

5. "GOOD KING WENCESLAS"

This unconventional but beloved carol dates back to 1853 when English hymnwriter John Mason Neale first penned its lyrics. Set to the tune of the 14th-century carol "The Time Is Near For Flowering," "Good King Wenceslas" focuses on the journey of a kind man who set out in terrible weather on the post-Christmas holiday of Saint Stephen's Day to provide aid to poor neighbors. 

This titular "king" was a real man, Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia, who ruled from 924 to 935, when he was assassinated by his own brother, Boleslav the Cruel.  Unlike his nefariously nicknamed sibling, Wenceslaus was adored by his subjects. His great acts of charity led to him posthumously being declared a king, and an eventual upgrade to sainthood. He is now the patron saint to the Czech Republic.

6. "ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS MY TWO FRONT TEETH"

This saccharine song is sung from the perspective of a child with a simple wish, and a fleet of such children was in fact its inspiration. In 1944, grade school teacher Donald Yetter Gardner and his wife Doris sat down with a group of second-graders in Smithtown, New York, to help them compose a song for Christmas. While there are different versions of the origin, they all involve a bunch of children saying, "All I want for Christmas is…" It's not so much that any students wished for those absent front teeth, but more that Gardner was charmed by their requests hindered by toothless lisping. 

As Gardner told it, he went home that night and in just 30 minutes penned the Christmas tune that would earn him royalties until his death in the fall of 2004. A performance at his school of the song led to a meeting with Witmark music company, and ultimately to Spike Jones and his City Slickers recording the ditty in 1948. Gardner gave up his teaching job to become a music consultant and editor, and later remarked in awe of his own success, "I was amazed at the way that silly little song was picked up by the whole country."

7. "JINGLE BELLS"

Though one of the most popular non-religious Yuletide tunes, "Jingle Bells" was not originally conceived for Christmas time at all. Penned by James Lord Pierpont in 1850s Savannah, Georgia, the song originally titled "The One Horse Open Sleigh" was intended to celebrate Thanksgiving. The local Unitarian church where he'd later play the song on the organ boasts historical markers declaring it the birthplace of "Jingle Bells." However, some sources insist Pierpont was belting the memorable melody as early as 1850, when he still lived in Medford, Massachusetts. Debate still rages about the true birthplace of the song.

"Jingle Bells" was renamed in 1857 when its lyrics and notes were first published. Decades passed before it rose to prominence. Yet it made history on December 16, 1965, becoming the first song broadcast in space. The crew of Gemini 6 followed reports of seeing Santa Claus with an improvised version of "Jingle Bells," which included bells and a harmonica that they had snuck onboard. Mission control responded to the surprise serenade with, "You're too much, 6." 

8. "O TANNENBAUM"

Commonly translated as "O Christmas Tree," this carol comes from Germany. The earliest version of the song dates back to the 16th century, when Melchior Franck wrote a folk song about the tradition of bringing a small fir tree into one's home to decorate and sit beside the seasonal nativity scene. This decorating tradition and its celebratory song moved from Germany to the U.S. along with its emigrants.

Revisions to the lyrics were made in 1819 by Joachim August Zarnack, and in 1824 by Leipzig organist Ernst Anschütz. As Christmas tree trimming caught on in the 1800s, "O Tannenbaum" grew in popularity. In the past century, the song has been included on countless Christmas albums as well as in such family entertainment as Disney's Swiss Family Robinson, Ernest Saves Christmas, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. 

9. "O LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM"

This religious carol tells the tale of the birth of Jesus, and was inspired by a pilgrim's moving Christmas Eve experience in the Holy Lands.

Phillip Brooks was a distinguished man of faith and intellect. A Boston-born Episcopalian preacher, he'd earned a Doctorate of Divinity from the University of Oxford, taught at Yale University, and publically advocated against slavery during the Civil War. But he's best known for penning "O Little Town of Bethlehem" after a life-changing journey. 

In 1865, Brooks rode on horseback from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, where he participated in the Church of the Nativity's five-hour long Christmas Eve celebration, complete with hymns. Returning home, this experience proved so profound that he channeled it into the song sung in churches to this day. Its first public performance was held three years later, performed by the children's choir of his church on December 27.

10. "HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS"

A carol that is at once hopeful and mournful, "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"s lyrics were penned by Hugh Martin for a scene in the 1944 movie musical Meet Me In St. Louis. Judy Garland sings the bittersweet song to her little sister, trying to cheer her up as both lament their family's move away from their hometown. But Garland and director Vincente Minnelli weren't happy with Martin's early, much more maudlin drafts. 

These included lines that Martin would later describe as ''hysterically lugubrious," like ''Have yourself a merry little Christmas/It may be your last.... Faithful friends who were dear to us/Will be near to us no more.'' 

Martin initially refused to revise the lyrics, but a blue talking to from actor Tom Drake set him straight. "He said, 'You stupid son of a bitch!'" Martin recollected, "'You're gonna foul up your life if you don't write another verse of that song!''' Ultimately, Martin gave the song a more hopeful leaning, first for the movie then again in 1957 at the request of Frank Sinatra. For Ol' Blue Eyes, he changed "We'll have to muddle through somehow" to the more jolly "Hang a shining star upon the highest bough." The song has since became a standard, in both forms.

15 Parenting Tips From History’s Greatest Fathers

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istock

From William Shakespeare to Benjamin Franklin, these famous fathers may span generations and nationalities, but they seem to agree on a few basic parenting principles: educate your children, love them, be a role model, and continue to expand your thinking as your children do the same. In honor of Father’s Day, here are 15 parenting tips from the ages.

1. Lock Up Your Liquor Cabinet // Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) 

In Montaigne’s 1575 Essays, the French Renaissance philosopher expresses his opinions regarding child rearing (and a multitude of other subjects). Among them was that parents should live modestly so they can give their children the majority of their resources, that a father should be honest with his children about his feelings, and that he shouldn’t try to be a frightening figure. Montaigne also wrote, “I think it more decent and wholesome for children to drink no wine till after 16 or 18 years of age.” Of course, modern parents will want to keep their children away from the liquor cabinet for even longer, since the legal drinking age today is 21. 

2. It Gets Better // Miguel de Cervantes (c. 1547-1616) 

When Cervantes wrote “time ripens all things; no man is born wise,” in part two of Don Quixote, he wasn’t talking specifically about fatherhood, but it certainly applies. You don’t know what it’s like to be a parent until you’re thrown into that situation, and from there, you spend the rest of your life learning. 

3.  Be Able to Pick Your Child Out of a Lineup // William Shakespeare (1564-1616) 

During Act Two, Scene Two of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Launcelot says to his blind father, Gobbo, “It is a wise father that knows his own child,” before revealing himself as said son. Shakespeare himself had three children with his wife Anne Hathaway. 

4. Encourage Intellectual and Physical Growth // Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Franklin was self-taught after the age of 10 and eventually earned honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, Oxford, and St. Andrews in Scotland. But Franklin wasn’t just book smart: Sometime during the course of his learning, he picked up a darn good parenting philosophy. Franklin, who had three children with his wife Deborah Read, once said,  “A house is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body.”

5. Give Them Liberty // John Adams (1735-1826)

The second president of the United States and father of six children believed his brood should uphold the same patriotic values he fought for. “Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom,” he once said.

6.  Parent for the Kids You Want // Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832)

Goethe’s professional philosophizing wound its way into his personal life as well. The German playwright, poet, and father of seven children said on the topic, “If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.”

7. A Symbolic Father Can Be Just as Loving // Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) 

Father of four and influential German playwright and philosopher Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller said, “It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons.” 

8. Instill a Love of Reading // Horace Mann (1796-1859)

Since he was an education reformer, proponent of public schools, and the “father of the common school,” it’s no surprise that Mann urged fathers to instill a love of knowledge in their children from an early age. He said, “A house without books is like a room without windows. No man has a right to bring up his children without surrounding them with books, if he has the means to buy them.”

9. Don’t Ignore Your Friends Just Because You Have Kids Now // Victor Hugo (1802-1885) 

While Victor Hugo’s works (most notably Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame) favor themes of despair and alienation, the author and father of five was generous and inclusive when it came to love. Hugo said, “Son, brother, father, lover, friend. There is room in the heart for all the affections, as there is room in heaven for all the stars.” 

10. Be the Fun Dad and the Serious Dad // Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

As the leader of the Transcendentalist movement, Emerson advocated self-reliance, individuality, and the goodness of people and nature. When it came to parenting his four children, he advised, “Be silly. Be honest. Be kind.”

11.  Set a Good Example // John S.C. Abbott (1805-1877) 

American historian and minister John Stevens Cabot Abbott’s books (The Child at Home, Or, The Principles Of Filial Duty and The Mother at Home, Or the Principles of Maternal Duty) are full of moral and religious teachings. He wrote, “We must be what we wish our children to be. They will form their characters from ours.”

12.  Provide for Your Kids // John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) 

John Stuart Mill was a British moral and political theorist, philosopher, economist, and politician. In On Liberty, he wrote ,“It still remains unrecognized, that to bring a child into existence without a fair prospect of being able, not only to provide food for its body, but instruction and training for its mind, is a moral crime, both against the unfortunate offspring and against society.” Mill also argued that if the government enables self-sustainability and personal freedom, individuals as well as the society as a whole will be better off. 

13. Get it Right the First Time // Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) 

Douglass spent his early years as a slave in Maryland before escaping at the age of 20, going on to become an active abolitionist and human rights advocate. The cruelty of his childhood no doubt influenced his views toward parenting. (He had five children.) “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men,” he wrote.

14.  Go Outside // John Muir (1838-1914) 

Muir was a naturalist, conservationist, and a father of two. In Muir’s book A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf, he wrote, “Let children walk with nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life, and that the grave has no victory, for it never fights.” 

15. Keep Them Smiling // Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) 

Wilde said, “The best way to make children good is to make them happy.” During the early years of his marriage to Constance Lloyd, the couple collaborated on publishing children’s books and had two sons of their own.

The 10 Most Dog-Friendly Workplaces in America

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iStock/Lisa5201

Bringing your dog to work might seem like it could be yet another job to handle, but the benefits of having your pupper by your side while you get through the daily grind—for both you and your co-workers—are numerous. Which helps explain why Take Your Dog to Work Day, which will be celebrated on June 21, has been a beloved holiday for office workers for more than 20 years.

According to a survey conducted by the dog lovers at Wellness Natural Pet Food, 65 percent of pet parents believe that having a dog in the workplace is a great way to boost company morale, while a whopping 75 percent of respondents said that pets can help to defuse stressful situations at work. In fact, nearly half of all dog moms and dads surveyed take their four-legged friends' wellbeing so seriously that "pet perks" are one of the factors they deem important when considering a new job offer.

So, in honor of Take Your Dog to Work Day, Wellness crunched the numbers in order to determine the 10 most pet-friendly companies in America. Did your employer make the cut?

1. Amazon // Seattle

On a daily basis, there could be as many as 6000 pups working out of Amazon's Seattle headquarters. Fortunately, the company makes them all feel at home with several on-campus dog parks, a doggie deck, and treats at the reception desk in every building. Because they're all good boys.

2. Harpoon Brewery // Boston

Boston's Harpoon Brewery loves welcoming four-legged friends into the fold. In addition to allowing dogs in the office throughout the week (which is located close enough to the Boston Seaport for a leisurely stroll), they host an annual "Dogtoberfest," where dogs and their humans tour the brewery for a beer-tasting (for the humans only, of course).

3. Trupanion // Seattle

Pet medical insurance company Trupanion takes pet perks to a whole different level with its in-house team of dog walkers and an onsite emergency team who are always standing by to ensure your dog’s health and safety throughout the workday. In addition, they allow a three-day paid bereavement period for employees dealing with the loss of a pet.

4. Ben & Jerry’s // Burlington, Vermont

Two of the world's greatest things—dogs and ice cream—come together in one magical place at Ben & Jerry's, where the 35 to 40 pups who hang out in the office on a daily basis are treated to yummy snacks and playtime. The company also regularly brings in veterinarians to help educate pet parents on everything from normal dog behaviors to training tips.

5. Contently // New York city

Dogs are content at Contently, a content marketing firm where good boys and girls are regularly found roaming the halls or taking naps in conference rooms. Contently employees even have access to a Slack channel for all pet-loving employees to share advice, tips, and adorable pics.

6. Procore // Carpinteria, California

Parties? More like “Pawties” with Procore’s dog-friendly happy hour. Dogs are able to play around outside while chowing down on treats and water when needed. In addition, pet insurance is one unique employee benefit you won't find in many other places.

7. Ticketmaster // Los Angeles

Dogs get a ticket to join their parents at Ticketmaster's Los Angeles office—another company where pet insurance is a great perk.

8. PetSafe // Knoxville, Tennessee

Celebrated pet brand PetSafe makes having dogs in the office a win-win for both employees and employers. As the company makes high-quality toys, treats, and more, they've got a never-ending supply of product testers right there to make sure they're headed in the right direction.

9. TripAdvisor // Needham, Massachusetts

Why leave Fluffy or Fido at home with only a pet cam to keep them company when they can just spend their day dozing off right next to your desk. TripAdvisor's extremely dog-friendly atmosphere means that you'll regularly see dozens of pooches frolicking around the office together.

10. Purely Elizabeth // Boulder, Colorado

It would make sense that natural pet food brand Purely Elizabeth would encourage their dog-loving employees to spend more time with their pets by bringing their tail-waggers to work. You probably won't hear Rover complain, as testing out new treats is regularly part of the deal.

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