Wednesday, December 18, 2013

WHAT CHILD IS THIS? -- A LITTLE CHRISTMAS CAROL HISTORY by CHERYL PIERSON


I love the music of Christmas. I could play it all year long if my husband didn't object. Those songs are so uplifting and beautiful that they make me feel good just to hear them, and you can’t help but sing along with them.

My dad always loved Christmas, and was a great practical jokester. He delighted in making phone calls to his grandchildren, pretending to be Santa. He’d call back later on for a rundown about what happened on our end—the looks, the comments, and the joy of getting a real live phone call from Santa! One of the traditions in our house was the box of chocolate covered cherries that was always under the tree for him from my mom, a reminder of hard Christmases in years past when that might have been the only gift she could afford. Another was that our house was always filled with Christmas music.

I was a classically trained pianist from the time I turned seven years old. My father’s favorite Christmas carol was What Child Is This? Once I mastered it, I delighted in playing it for him because he took such pleasure in it, and since it was also the tune to another song, Greensleeves, I played it all year round for him. He'd sit in his easy chair and "direct" as I played it, then say, "I believe I need to hear that one again..."

The tune known as Greensleeves was a British drinking song for many years, a popular folk song that was not religious. In ancient Britain, there have been more than twenty different known lyrics associated with the tune throughout history. It was first published in 1652.

Shakespeare mentions it by name in “The Merry Wives of Windsor” in which it is played while traitors are hanged. It has been attributed to King Henry VIII, and said that he wrote it for Anne Boleyn. How did this song become one of the best-loved Christmas carols of all time?

In 1865, Englishman William Chatterton Dix wrote “The Manger Throne,” three verses of which became “What Child Is This?” During that particular era, Christmas was not as openly celebrated as it is today. Many conservative Puritan churches forbade gift-giving, decorating or even acknowledging the day as a special day for fear that Christmas would become a day of pagan rituals more than a serious time of worship. Although Dix wrote other hymns, in the context of the times, it was unusual for him to write about Christ’s birth, since many hymn writers and religious factions ignored Christmas completely.

The words represent a unique view of Christ’s birth. While the baby was the focal point of the song, the point of view of the writer seemed to be that of a confused observer. Dix imagined the visitors to the manger bed wondering about the child who had just been born. In each verse, he described the child’s birth, life, death and resurrection, answering the question with a triumphant declaration of the infant’s divinity.

“The Manger Throne” was published in England just as the U.S. Civil War was ending. The song quickly made its way from Britain to the United States. Dix died in 1898, living long enough to see “The Manger Throne” become the Christmas carol “What Child Is This?”

What's your favorite Christmas carol? Mine is SILENT NIGHT, but truly, I think they're all beautiful.

I hope you all have a very blessed Christmas and a wonderful 2014! MERRY CHRISTMAS!






25 comments:

  1. Like you I played the piano from the age of 6 on. My father also enjoyed hearing me play. This post brought back some sweet memories. Thank you.

    As for favorite song, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" just resonates with me.

    And on that note "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and great joys in the New Year. Doris

    ReplyDelete
  2. Mine is Coventry Carol, and O Come, O Come Emmanuel, each for the same reason: the music. Heh. I guess I like the Medieval stuff best.

    My absolute least favorite piece of Christmas music is that horrid thing by Elmo and Patsy, the name of which I will not mention for fear of invoking its notice and inviting it in.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I like the more modern, I'll be home for Christmas. It makes me tear up to remember those who will not be there.

    ReplyDelete
  4. And a very happy Christmas to you and your family as well, Cheryl. My favorite Christmas Carol has changed over the years---of course, I've love each and every one of the Christ-mas carols I've ever sung and am so glad that a radio station here in Sacramento plays them the entire month long. But now I love hearing Little Drummer Boy when it is done softly and reverently with a little drum in the background, as if the little boy were really playing it for the Christ child. It really gets me into the Spirit-filled Reason for the Season.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I like almost all of them!

    Morgan Mandel

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks, Cheryl. Love to read good Christmas stories about the origins of traditions and music. Also stories about great dads.

    Hard to pin down a favorite carol of mine, but I always get a little choked up when we sing "Joy to the World" as the finale to our Christmas Eve candle light service at church.

    A great and merry Christmas to you and yours. - Phil

    ReplyDelete
  7. Loved the photo of the chocolate covered cherry. I suppose our minds are running in the same groove--I have a post written but not up in which I talk about good memories--one is a box of those chocolate covered cherries in the 50s. They still make them, too.
    Songs? I love so many, it's difficult to name even a few.
    Spiritual--"Mary, Did You Know?", "O Holy Night," "Silent Night."
    Popular--"Santa Baby," "So, This is Christmas," "I'll Be Home For Christmas," "Christmastime In Texas," "I'll Have a Blue Christmas," and MANY MORE!!!!

    Good topic. Music really makes Christmas for me. We don't have much family to be with, I now send money to MI to the boys, and we can't even think of anything we want for Christmas. So, Music it is. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I didn't know you were training to be a concert pianist, Cheryl. Greensleeves has always been one of my favorites to play on my violin. I love its haunting melody. Although I knew it was also What Child is this and some of it's history, I enjoyed reading the details you posted. If I lived near you I would come to your house and play it with you.
    Have a wonderful and happy Christmas.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Love The Messiah.

    Merry Christmas, all.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Doris, I think the piano players of the world are growing few and far between with the times. I used to also teach piano--with everything going on in today's world, it's hard for students to find time to practice--very different from when I was a child, and you too, I bet. I always enjoy bringing out the Christmas books and starting to practice them. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas!
    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete
  11. LOL GARY!!!! I agree!!! It's name shall not be spoken! I love O Come O Come Emmanuel--so simple, but so beautiful.
    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete
  12. Barbara, I remember watching an old black and white movie, and for the life of me I can't remember the name of it, but it seems like George Hamilton was in it. I was just a young kid, maybe 10 or 12, and it was a WWII movie. The Germans were getting ready to execute several American POWs and that was the music that was playing as they were preparing for it. I will never forget that--another moment in my "growing up making connections" time. I've always loved that song, but at the same time, it's always sad for me too.
    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete
  13. Janice, I LOVE The Little Drummer Boy. Like you, I love the soft, reverent versions, but I also found one by Pentatonix, the group that won the first season of the show SING OFF, that's a cappella and just amazing. I'll see if I can't find the link to post.
    Cheryl
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJ_MGWio-vc

    ReplyDelete
  14. Morgan, a woman after my own heart! I can't think of very many I just don't care for. Most of them I will belt out con mucho gusto! LOL

    Merry Christmas!
    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete
  15. Oh, Phil, I love Joy to the World! What a great carol! It brings tears to my eyes, too. One of those that just puts it out there--Joy to the World, the Lord is come!

    Merry Christmas to you!
    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete
  16. Celia, it's not Christmas in my house without those chocolate covered cherries. I saw chocolate covered BLUEBERRIES the other day in Walgreens. For some reason, that doesn't have the same appeal to me. LOL

    The song I love that's often overlooked is Harry Belafonte's version of "Mary's Boy Child". I have not had much of a chance to play the piano lately, but I did download a bunch of Christmas songs to listen to while I'm working on the computer. But this weekend is going to be a marathon piano playing time for me. I miss it!

    I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas. Our kids are nearby, but they, of course, have their own lives, too. I had them make lists this year, like they did when they were little, so I could just pick off of it and buy.

    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete
  17. Sarah! That would be so fun! And it's funny you mentioned that, because my sister and I were talking tonight and she said that one of her old highschool chums had invited her to come down to Dallas right after Christmas--she just got a brand new piano, and has a friend that plays violin who is coming over, and they'll be playing while everyone sings the carols. She is making all kinds of wonderful Christmas nibble stuff and they're just going to eat and sing til the world looks level. It sounds like so much fun. Hope you have a very Merry Christmas!
    Hugs,
    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete
  18. Chuck, I was a grown woman before I ever knew that you were supposed to stand up for that when it was played. My daughter told me! I love it too--especially now that I know its history and what I'm supposed to do when the first chords sound. LOL
    MERRY CHRISTMAS!
    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete
  19. Jacquie, me too! That is so great when it's done well.
    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete
  20. Sorry to get here to late, Cheryl. I love What Child is This and remember the moment when I was a child that I was able to play it on the piano. I still have my mom's old songbook. I didn't realize Christmas was still kinda suspect as late as the 1860's. I love learning something new! Merry Christmas.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Tanya, thanks for coming by--there's no such thing as being late with the internet! LOL Love to you!
    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete
  22. Make Money Online is very easy now, In Internet system we have now best earning system without any work, Just Invest some Money into your Business and Make Perfect Life time Earnings with this Business.
    Join Now for Make Perfect Business and Earn Money online from home.
    www.hotfxearnings.com

    ReplyDelete
  23. Make Money Online is very easy now, In Internet system we have now best earning system without any work, Just Invest some Money into your Business and Make Perfect Life time Earnings with this Business.
    Join Now for Make Perfect Business and Earn Money online from home.
    www.hotfxearnings.com

    ReplyDelete
  24. All Latest Hot Current Affairs, All Entertainment News updates, Entertainment Articles, Entertainment News, Entertainment Pictures, Entertainment Videos, Funny Pictures, Fail Pictures, Troll Comics, Troll Images, lol Pictures, Mp3 Tunes and every thing you want...
    www.hotcurrentaffairs.com

    ReplyDelete