Christmas is the one holiday that has its own music. In fact, music is so much at the core of Christmas celebrations that three of the top fifteen best-selling singles of all time are Christmas-themed, and public venues start playing carols right after Halloween, two months early. Think about it; no other American/western European holiday involves theme music.
I realized this fact last night while attending the second holiday concert of this season, listening to a stream of sublime medieval motets and “Marian polyphony” by Chanticleer. As they sang dozens of songs about mangers and Magi, I tried to think of songs for Halloween or Thanksgiving, and they are rare, ancillary, afterthoughts. In the religious elementary school I attended as a child, Easter and Christmas were considered equally worth of pageantry, and we performed songs for parents in both. But few people would now sing “Go to Dark Gethsemane” or “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” while shopping for chocolate bunnies in March.
Music is a fundamental part of the Christmas experience, as old as wassailing and gift-giving, almost as old as snow and the change of the seasons.
This may not seem like a holiday-themed post, but in the theater of mad decorating that took place at our house last week, listening to Christmas carols led to all sorts of topics. One of my favorite carols popped into the mix: “What Child is This?” played by Vince Guaraldi on The Charlie Brown Christmas CD. Naturally, the song led to a discussion of “Greensleeves” which naturally led to… anyone? anyone? Henry the Eighth… which naturally reminded of something I recently learned about syphilis.
The Earworm Virus of “Greensleeves”
The lyrics to “What Child is This?” were written as a poem by William Chatterton Dix, who mused on what the magi might have said besides, “Where the Holiday Inn?” Dix was an English insurance company manager whose near death illness invoked a spark of divine inspiration so intense that he began writing poems like “The Manger Throne.” At some point, when a hymnal was later created in 1865, his poem was set to the ‘borrowed’ tune from “Greensleeves.”
The little ballad, played by strolling bards at Renaissance festivals and the more famous pick-up lute quartets, had been around for nearly three centuries. The song has long been attributed to Henry, and the legend goes that he wrote it for Anne Boleyn as she was rejecting his advances. Continue reading “The Origins of Greensleeves and Syphilis”
We have been making rather merry and I have family visiting. I could, perhaps, have planned something ahead of time as I have been known to plan, but I confess I did not feel up to it. I thought perhaps I should cheat and just post pictures of the food we made and have been eating. But that doesn’t seem like an adequate confession.
I confess to guilt that I am not generous enough, that I do not reach out enough, and that I think of comfort before action. I am not Catholic, so I don’t know how to classify that sin. Continue reading “Full Confession”