How well do you know your Christmas Carols? Prepare to be informed, Rogue Polymath style.
We Wish You A Merry Christmas
While a definitive author remains unknown, it’s widely accepted that it originated in 16th Century England. It was likely used as a door-to-door caroling tune.
What’s Figgy Pudding?
Popular in Medieval times, it was a holiday dessert pudding made with figs, apples, rum, and other things. Here’s a recipe to try out:
Why we won’t go till we get some!
Here’s where things get ugly. Today we think of Christmas as a time of good will towards all. Back in the day, however, it wasn’t exactly like that. In fact, it was often a good excuse for drunken revelry (think Mardi Gras). Sometimes, it would get out of hand.
The poor would go to the houses of the rich and demand their best food and drink. If owners failed to comply, their visitors would most likely terrorize them with mischief. Christmas became the time of year when the upper classes could repay their real or imagined “debt” to society by entertaining less fortunate citizens.
This changes the tone of this song from one of pleasant Victorian caroling to Occupy Wall St. protesters circa the 1600s! This, combined with political and religious complexities, led to Christmas being outlawed (by Oliver Crowell) in England between 1647 and 1660.
Christmas would make a comeback in the Victorian Era (thanks to the literature of Washington Irving and Charles Dickens) which promoted it as a time for family, giving, and faith in our common humanity.
And a happy New Year
Oddly, this is a rare reference to New Year’s in a Christmas carol. This is because celebrating New Year’s on January 1st wasn’t common until a century or two after this song was believed to have originated. Some believe it may have been added later.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year but how well do you know your Christmas Carols? Prepare to be informed, Rogue Polymath style.
The Twelve Days of Christmas
Written versions of this song date back to 1780 England, compiled in a child’s book called Mirth without Mischief. However, it’s believed that the oral version considerably predates the written version. Also, there is circumstantial evidence that it’s originally French, not English. Its structure was used in a game called ‘memories and forfeits’, where each player had to remember all the previous lines. If they forgot, they had to pay a penalty (forfeit). Something like the game Truth or Dare.
In contrast to today’s commercial Christmas season which unofficially starts the day after Thanksgiving (and unfortunately in isolated instances - before then) and culminates on Christmas day, Medieval Christmas celebrations were different. They began Christmas day and continued to January 5th, twelve days total. January 5th is the eve of a holiday called the Epiphany which celebrates the Magi bringing gifts to the Christ child.
3 Calling Birds
They were actually ‘collie’ birds (as in coal-ie), which means black birds
5 Golden Rings
Not really jewelry, instead it refers to a type of bird with a yellow ring on its neck (like a pheasant). Now you can see the continuity between all the first seven gifts (hint - they’re all birds).
Every year some economist calculates the cost of actually purchasing these items for your ‘true love.’ Here’s how much it will cost this year: 12 Days List Passes 100K