How the Civil War Inspired 'I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day'

iStock
iStock

It may not be as popular as "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," but “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” is a holiday classic. In case you need a refresher, here’s Bing Crosby’s rendition:

Nearly 10 years before it was a song, the composition was a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem called “Christmas Bells.” It had been a tough couple of years for Longfellow. In 1861, his wife suffered a terrible death right in front of his eyes. Fanny Longfellow had been trimming their 7-year-old daughter’s hair and decided to preserve some of the curls in sealing wax. Something went wrong during the process—some say a gust of wind blew the hot wax onto her dress, while others blame a self-lighting match—and Fanny's dress went up in flames. She ran into her husband’s study for help; he burned himself badly trying to put her out. But his efforts were for naught; she died the next morning and he was too injured to attend her funeral.

In 1863, their 17-year-old son, Charles Appleton Longfellow, ran away to enlist in the Union Army. He left his father a note, explaining, "You know for how a long time I have been wanting to go to war I have tried hard to resist the temptation of going without your leave but I cannot any longer, I feel it to be my first duty to do what I can for my country and I would willingly lay down my life for it if it would be of any good God Bless you all."

The commanding officer knew the family and contacted the elder Longfellow, who gave his consent despite being very much against it. Charley hadn’t been in the service long when he contracted malaria and typhoid fever and had to come home to recover. Though he was gravely ill, the diseases turned out to be a blessing in disguise: While he was at home getting well, Charley missed the Battle of Gettysburg, which killed or wounded more than 51,000 soldiers. Charley returned to his post in August, and on December 1, his father received devastating news: His young son had been shot during the Battle of Mine Run on November 27, with a bullet clipping his spine. Surgeons warned the family that Charles may never walk again.

Amazingly, Charley made a full recovery. But when Longfellow put pen to paper to write “Christmas Bells,” he definitely had the horrors of the Civil War on his mind. Composer John Baptiste Calkin put the words to music in 1872, but when you hear the song performed these days, the two verses that obviously refer to the War Between the States are usually left out:

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Oscar Mayer Is Renting Out the Wienermobile on Airbnb For Overnight Stays

Airbnb
Airbnb

Oscar Mayer is about to make all of your hot dog dreams come true. To celebrate National Hot Dog Day (today), the meat-industry titan has listed its legendary Wienermobile on Airbnb for overnight stays. Mark your calendars for July 24, when reservation opportunities will go live throughout the day, with prices starting at $136 per night.

Oscar Mayer Wienermobile on Airbnb
Airbnb

The 27-foot-long locomotive hot dog, parked in Chicago, can accommodate two people and includes a sofa bed, sitting area, and outdoor space with a bathroom and “hot dog picnic zone” where you can lounge in Adirondack chairs while enjoying a savory snack. The 'mobile will also be packed with all the hot dog amenities you didn’t know you needed: Highlights include a mini fridge stocked with hot dogs and Chicago-style fixings, a custom Wienermobile art piece by Chicago artist Laura Kiro, and an Oscar Mayer roller grill that you get to keep forever. And that’s not the only souvenir: each guest will also receive a welcome kit with as-yet-unidentified “hot dog-inspired accessories.”

Other features include air conditioning, free parking, breakfast, a hair dryer, and the essentials: towels, bed sheets, soap, shampoo, and toilet paper.

Interior of Wienermobile on Airbnb
Airbnb

Interior of Wienermobile on Airbnb
Airbnb

The booking dates overlap with Chicago’s famed Grant Park music festival Lollapalooza, which takes place from August 1 through 4. The lineup this year includes Ariana Grande, Childish Gambino, Tame Impala, The Strokes, and Kacey Musgraves, to name a few. What better way to stay nourished and well-rested after a musical marathon than in a cozy, oblong automobile filled with meat?

If you can't book a Wienermobile getaway, you can still celebrate July as National Hot Dog Month by hosting your own hot dog picnic wherever you are (just make sure you know the proper way to plate, dress, serve, and chow down on a plate full of frankfurters).

Check out the full listing on Airbnb.

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The Proper Way to Eat a Hot Dog

martinedoucet/iStock via Getty Images
martinedoucet/iStock via Getty Images

Attention America: you're probably eating hot dogs the wrong way, which is pretty embarrassing when you consider how much you love them.

The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, a part of the American Meat Institute, has an official etiquette guide for hot dog-eating, in order to do the summer staple justice. Surprisingly, many of the rules are intended to prevent people from getting too fancy with their franks.

How to plate your hot dog

No need for fancy garnishes—keep the presentation simple. Sticking with the laid-back theme, be sure to only use plain buns or those with poppy or sesame seeds. Even if they're your favorite, the council's website says "sun-dried tomato buns or basil buns are considered gauche with franks," so you might want to stay away.

How to Dress your hot dog

Dressing your hot dog is also a bigger deal than you might think. First, there's an order to follow. Wet condiments (mustard or chili, for example) go on first, followed by chunky ingredients—if you're putting onions or sauerkraut on your hot dog, this is the time to do it. Next comes cheese. Spices, such as pepper or celery salt, come last.

The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council also has rules about ketchup, much to the dismay of Internet commenters. According to the council, no person over the age of 18 should top their hot dog with ketchup, despite the fact that over half of all Americans use the condiment. Former council president Janet Riley (the so-called "Queen of Wien") is shocked by this: "Ketchup’s popularity was the big surprise, considering our etiquette rules—and ketchup’s notable absence from regional hot dog favorites like the Chicago Dog and the New York Dog."

How to serve your hot dog

According to the Council, always use low-maintenance dishes. Paper plates are preferable, but any everyday dish will do. Want to eat your hot dog off fine china? Sorry, that's a faux pas. Finally, if you're serving cocktail wieners, use colored toothpicks instead of plain ones. Cocktail forks are in poor taste, according to Riley.

How to eat your hot dog

Because hot dogs are such casual foods, you should never use a fork and knife. Instead, always use your hands for any hot dog on a bun. While you're at it, make sure you take no more than five bites to finish your frank (although seven is acceptable for foot-longs). Make sure you eat every part of the hot dog, including any leftover parts of the bun.

Finally, make sure your beverage of choice doesn't outshine the food. Wine shouldn't be paired with hot dogs. Instead, opt for beer, soda, lemonade, iced tea … really, anything that doesn't clash with your non-ketchup topping.

How to clean up after your hot dog meal

If you find yourself covered in mustard (or whatever else you put on your hot dog that isn't ketchup), there's also a way to clean up. Use paper napkins to clean your face—cloth napkins are never okay—but make sure that you lick off any condiments that you find on your fingers.

Finally, if you attend a hot dog barbecue, you don't send a thank you note. While a thoughtful gesture, the council notes that it "would not be in keeping with the unpretentious nature of hot dogs."

Want more advice from the council? The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council put together this handy video, featuring the Queen of Wien herself, boasting all the rules, some patriotic music, and a couple great food puns.

This story originally ran in 2015.

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