More Christmas tales

(Originally posted 12/25/18)

I have posted two of these nearly every year for the past ten:

“Yes Virginia”, the story of Francis P. Church’s New York Sun newspaper editorial responding to Virginia O’Hanlon’s question about Santa Claus’s existence.

Jo Walton’s wonderfully imaginative story of Joseph, faced with a newly-pregnant girlfriend and a sudden requirement to travel to Bethlehem.

The third story, new this year, is John Scalzi’s interview with Marta Pittman, Santa Claus’s lawyer.

Christmas Eve poems

Alan Mandell reads Clement Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas.” Mandell is a Canadian-born theater actor.

The poem was published in 1823, but Moore didn’t acknowledge his authorship until he published a book of poems in 1844. There’s apparently an ongoing dispute among some literati and academics as to whether he was the actual author. He was quite a character. He got extremely rich subdividing his inherited real estate on Manhattan Island, and in 1827 he donated the land on which the Episcopal General Theological Seminary now sits.

Here’s a musical version performed by Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians. Waring was an interesting character. He was a bandleader, radio and TV personality, and a promoter. He backed the inventor of the Waring blendor to the tune of $25,000, apparently getting the naming rights to the gadget. “…the Waring-owned Miracle Mixer was introduced to the public at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago retailing for $29.75. In 1938, Fred Waring renamed his Miracle Mixer Corporation as the Waring Corporation, and the mixer’s name was changed to the Waring Blendor (the “o” in blendor giving it a slight distinction from “blender”).”

The ancient choir

King’s College (Cambridge) has a glorious choir, comprised of 16 boys aged 7-13 and 10 adults. It was founded in — get ready — 1441 by King Henry VI of England. It’s famous for its “Nine Lessons and Carols,” performed and broadcast throughout the world on Christmas Eve via the BBC. The Lessons have been broadcast annually since 1928 with one exception (1930) via radio and televised since 1954.

Here the choir sings a lively “Ding Dong Merrily on High.” The song is no spring chicken either; it was first mentioned in a book of dances published in 1589. It was first published with the current lyrics in 1924.

Christmas readings

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has a daily radio show called “As It Happens.” During the Christmas season its hosts have read various seasonal stories during part of the 90-minute program for years and years. All of them are wonderful performances. Here are links to a few:

“The Gift of the Magi,” O. Henry’s classic short story read by the show’s long-time host Alan Maitland.

“The Shepherd,” Frederick Forsyth’s ghost story about an RAF pilot whose plane has suffered a catastrophic electrical failure while flying from a base in Germany across the Channel to England in 1957. Also read by Maitland, it always appears during the last show before Christmas.

“Who Has Seen the Wind,” an excerpt from W.O. Mitchell’s novel of Depression-era Saskatchewan.

“Bone Button Borscht,” a retelling of the folk tale “Stone Soup” in a Jewish context by Toronto author Aubrey Davis. It’s read by another long-time host, Barbara Budd.

“To Everything There is a Season,” Alistair MacLeod’s Cape Breton Christmas tale.

Shortest night of the year

To celebrate the Winter Solstice, let’s hear a spectacular piano version of Vivaldi’s “Winter,” from his “Four Seasons” concertos. Vivaldi wrote them circa 1717 and published sonnets to accompany them in order to explain what he was trying to say about each season. This was one of the first and certainly the most detailed of early examples of program music, music with a narrative element.

Stille Nacht

From a 1994 TV special entitled Aaron Neville’s Christmas in New Orleans, here’s “Silent Night”. Neville and Linda Ronstadt performed several glorious duets on her 1989 album “Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind”, and they reunited here on this show from his hometown.

From Wikipedia:

The song was first performed on Christmas Eve 1818 at St Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf, a village in the Austrian Empire on the Salzach river in present-day Austria.[1] A young priest, Father Joseph Mohr, had come to Oberndorf the year before. He had written the lyrics of the song “Stille Nacht” in 1816 at Mariapfarr, the hometown of his father in the Salzburg Lungau region, where Joseph had worked as a co-adjutor.

The melody was composed by Franz Xaver Gruber, schoolmaster and organist in the nearby village of Arnsdorf. Before Christmas Eve, Mohr brought the words to Gruber and asked him to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for the Christmas Eve mass, after river flooding had damaged the church organ. It is unknown what inspired Mohr to write the lyrics, or what prompted him to create a new carol.

Bing Crosby’s version has sold some 30 million copies, making it the third best-selling single record of all time behind Crosby’s “White Christmas” and Elton John’s tribute to Princess Diana “Candle in the Wind/Something About the Way You Look Tonight.”

Talking Snowmen?

Back in 1987 The Eurythmics sang a version of “Winter Wonderland” which was played so frequently in the five years ending in 2007 that ASCAP claimed it topped all holiday songs for that period written by one of its members.

The song was written in 1934 by Felix Bernard and lyricist Richard Bernhard Smith and first recorded by a man named Richard Himber later that year. It’s been recorded by at least 200 artists in the 85 years since.