Why Are Christmas Songs Called Carols?

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I recently heard someone insisting that there was a difference between Christmas carols, which were all about baby Jesus and the angels, the star and the wise men, and Christmas songs, such as Jingle Bells or Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

It sounded like a feasible explanation, and the guy put up what seemed like a good argument– mostly due to his confidence and the underlying implication that he knew more about it than anyone else.
(See malapert and ultracrepidarian.)

That’s what triggered me to research the question. I confess it was more out of my desire to possibly prove him wrong than to actually know the answer that I took out my phone and searched Etymoline for ‘carol’. To my delight, he was wrong! It does seem to be a popular belief, but it’s not consistent with the etymology of the word carol.

Carol is a very old word that dates back to about 1300 in both its noun and verb forms.

At this time, the noun meant both a joyful song and a form of dance in a circle or ring. Both of these meanings probably came from the Old French word carole that referred to that kind of circular dance, which was sometimes accompanied by singers. The origins of the word before that are unclear, but it certainly does paint a festive picture.

It wasn’t until about 1500 AD – two centuries later – that the word had also come to refer to a hymn or song of joy sung at Christmas. Thus, the religious connotations of the word came much later than the secular meaning.

The verb form to carol first meant to dance in a ring or circular formation. The sense of the word that meant to sing with joy or celebration had developed by the late 14th century.

The verb carol did not mean to sing Christmas songs, often moving from place to place to do so, until the late 1800s. It does seem, though, that the practice of carolling is believed to be a much older tradition that was outlawed in Britain, along with the celebration of Christmas itself, by the Puritans who governed in the mid-1600s.

So, Christmas songs are called carols because of their festive and joyful nature. Given that a. the word was originally far more specific about the type of dance than the type of songs being sung, other than that they were joyful, and b. Jingle Bells and Rudolph are as festive in their own ways as Hark The Herald Angels Sing or Joy to the World, there is no reason to classify them differently. They’re all Christmas carols, and that’s that.

Sources:

Carole: European Dance
Etymonline
Medieval Circle Dance: Carole
The History of Christmas Carols

Why Are Christmas Songs Called Carols?
#ChristmasSongs #ChristmasCarols #blogpost

67 Years.

This morning, my sister and I visited Mum and Dad’s grave on the 67th anniversary of their marriage.

On this date, every year since 2011, I have been purposeful in spending quality time with Dad as he spent the anniversary without Mum. He often had some tears, as did I, and we would talk about family times and happy memories. There would invariably be coffee and cake involved at some point of the day.

This year, Mum and Dad are together again, and we are without them both for the first time.

Instead of coffee and cake, we went out for breakfast together before heading up to the pretty little cemetery on top of the hill.

Nature blessed us with a beautiful morning: sunshine, blue sky, white fluffy clouds, and a light breeze. The grass is starting g to cover the grave now, so it looks less  fresh and confronting. Still, it was the first time my sister, brother-in-law and husband had been back to the grave since the day of Dad’s funeral, so in that respect it was harder for them than for me.  I quite like cemeteries, and I have been back to visit Mum and Dad’s grave on several occasions. 

Neither my sister nor I had a big howly cry, which we wouldn’t be ashamed to admit because we have both done it several times before, but we both had some tears. We’re not ashamed of those, either. Crying is healthy, and so is owning your emotions.

Christmas won’t be the same this year. For the first time in our lives, we will be doing it without our father. I haven’t bought boxes of chocolate-coated ginger or liquorice allsorts for the first time in decades.

It’s all kind of weird, and it hurts, but we are doing our best to make it positive and memorable. Before visiting the cemetery, we went out for breakfast with our husbands. We bought a little Christmas poinsettia, which Mum always loved, to decorate their grave instead of taking fresh flowers this time.

Most importantly, my sister and I are spending Christmas together. I am so enormously thankful that, after months of lockdown and closed state borders, she and my brother-in-law can be here.

There are gifts under the tree, plans for special meals and treats, and neither of us has to navigate the first Christmas as orphans on our own. Our other siblings and my nieces can’t be with us, but they will be with family. We will video call and spend time together that way. It’s not perfect, but it beats not being together at all.

As I observed in my post on Dad’s birthday, the firsts are hard. There are so many feelings, and it can be challenging to know how to mark the date without being morose. It’s good to honour the memories, but the fear of people thinking you spend too much time in Memoryville or Griefland is real.

Will they want to read another Facebook post or blog about it? The fact is, some won’t, and that’s okay. At the same time, there are plenty of others who will. We are not the only ones grieving for a loved one for the first time this Christmas.

It matters to me, and to them, that we know we are not alone in our feelings, nor are we weird or wrong for feeling the way we do. It’s completely natural, and the best thing to do is acknowledge it: cry and laugh when we need to, retell the family stories, share memories, and deal with it in the most positive and constructive ways we can.

It’s also important to be deliberate about creating new memories and treasuring our time together, so that we make this first Christmas as merry and bright as we can.

Reblog: My Father’s Childhood Memories of Christmas

Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

Knowing that this Christmas will be the first in my life without my Dad in it led me to think last night about this post from three years ago.

I’m so glad I asked my Dad about his memories that day. Now that he’s gone, it makes that conversation and the memories he shared even more special.

The moral to the story is clear: ask your parents about everything you might possibly want to know while you can. You don’t have them forever.

WordyNerdBird

I spent some time in the car with my father today, and as we travelled the presenter on the radio was asking people to call in and talk about family memories and traditions at Christmas time. This was a great opportunity to ask Dad what Christmas was like for him when he was young, so that’s exactly what I did! 

christmas-1066720_960_720 Border 5My father grew up in Holland during the Depression and World War II. His family were not really poor, but neither were they rich. My grandfather worked very hard to provide for his family, and both he and my grandmother managed their resources carefully. 

The house was usually not decorated much for Christmas, but they did have a Christmas tree lit with candles. Dad also remembers the large fir trees that were put up in the churches, almost as tall as the roof.  Some were lit with electric lights, but most…

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Jolabokaflod: An Icelandic Christmas Eve Tradition For Book Lovers

A Christmas Eva tradition we are adopting for the first time this year is the Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod, pronounced yo-la-bok-a-flot. (Hear it here.) it means ‘Christmas book flood’ and that’s exactly what it is.

It is the practice of giving books on Christmas Eve and then going to bed and reading them.

My little pile of book gifts for the family on Christmas Eve.

The tradition began in Iceland during World War II when imports were hard to come by and paper was relatively inexpensive. The publishing industry did not operate year round, but rather swung into action toward the end of the year, and culminated in the Bokatidindi—a catalogue of every new book published in Iceland, given free of charge to every home in the country. From there, people choose the books they will give their loved ones.

It’s no wonder that book lovers all over the world are looking on and thinking they’d like to get in on that action. That was certainly my response.

Sources:

Jolabokaflod: Iceland’s Christmas Eve Tradition
#ChristmasEve #jolabokafloð #booklovers

Shakespeare’s Baubles.

Shakespeare Nerd

Because it’s December and Christmas decorations are everywhere, I wrote last night about the meanings and etymology of the word ‘bauble’ on WordyNerdBird. I wondered then if it were a word used by Shakespeare. To my delight, it was indeed!

Interestingly, Shakespeare references one of the continued senses and the obsolete sense of the word, and creates double entendre with it for extra credit.

In ‘Cymbeline’, the queen refers to Caesar’s ships bobbing around on the sea as ‘ignorant baubles’, describing them further as being like egg shells, being thrown and broken against the rocks.

A similar reference to boats as ‘baubles’ is made in ‘Troilus and Cressida.

In ‘Othello’, Cassio shows his disregard for Bianca by describing her as a bauble that follows him around and tries to make him fall in love with her. That his companions laugh with him demonstrates that this use of the word…

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Baubles.

‘Bauble’ is a word used more in December than at any other time of the year.

Photo: Joanne Van Leerdam

On Saturday night we were out for a family dinner — we’re finally allowed to go out here, now, after months of lockdown and restrictions— and one of the young kids at the gathering commented to me that they liked the pretty balls on the light fittings, and then asked me if that’s what they were called.

I explained that they are called baubles, and added that the beads on her bracelet could also be called baubles because they are pretty things designed for decoration. They’re both different kinds of ornaments, and it’s cool how there are often multiple useful words to use for things.

This got me wondering about the origin of the word ‘bauble’. I suspected it was French, simply because of how it sounded,  but such assumptions are not safe. As always, my trusty Macquarie dictionary and Etymonline had my back.

‘Bauble’ came into English in the early 14th century, meaning a decorative trinket or ornament. It came from the Old French word ‘baubel’ meaning a child’s toy or trinket. That may have come from the Latin word ‘bellus’ meaning “pretty” which gave us belle, as in ‘belle of the ball’,  or it could be related to ‘babe’ or ‘baby’. The sense of bauble meaning something of little or no value is later, dating from the early 1600s.

Long ago, ‘bauble’ was also the name given to a staff with a decorated or carved head, carried by a court jester and designed to mock the sceptre carried by a monarch. This meaning has fallen out of use, much as the position of court jester and the practice of a monarch carrying a sceptre have done.

So, now ‘bauble’ only relates to the pretty things. It is important to understand, though, that just because something can be called a bauble does not automatically mean that it has no value. It’s fair to say that while some baubles, such as Christmas decorations and the beads in a child’s bracelet, might usually be fairly inexpensive, there are other kind of baubles that tend to be more valuable.

Thus, the two meanings of bauble remain distinct, even though they can both apply at the same time.

End-of-Term Teacher Tired.

An image of a woman with her head on her computer keyboard  as though she has fallen asleep there.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

In response to requests from several quarters to explore the ways in which the added stresses of online and remote learning, social restrictions, working from home and everything else that has come with COVID-19 have affected teachers this year, I conducted a survey.

Open to all teachers worldwide, I distributed the survey both on social media and via professional networks.

I asked teachers to respond honestly to nine questions, which I formulated based on comments and social media posts by teachers. To remove any possible disincentive for honesty, participation in this survey was completely voluntary and anonymous.

Thus far, there is only a relatively small number of respondents , and my little survey is by no means scientific research. Still, the results thus far bear out my own experience and observations, and what I have heard others saying: as resilient and committed as we might be, it has been a really rough year that has left teachers exhausted and, at times, quite discouraged.

The survey is still open for any teachers wishing to respond.

Thus far:

  • 79% of respondents say they have been much more stressed and tired than previously
  • 21% reported no change in their levels of stress and tiredness.
  • There does not appear to be any correlation between how tired and stressed people are and the number of years of experience they have as a teacher.
  • 50% of respondents said their stress was created by their own expectations of themselves
  • 36% said that other people’s expectations of them as a teacher created their stress
  • 14% reported that their stress came from the media’s continual reporting of COVID-19 related news and issues.
  • 64% of people said that the tiredness experienced was longer term than usual, while 36% that it was about the same.
  • 29% said they had consumed more alcohol in 2020 than in previous years
  • 71% said their alcohol consumption was about the same as in previous years.
  • 36% of people also said they had increased their caffeine intake
  • 36% said that their caffeine intake had not changed.
  • It did seem that there was a correlation between people who had increased alcohol consumption and increased caffeine consumption with
  • The respondents’ responses regarding nutrition, though, was interesting.
  • Only 28% said their eating patterns had not changed
  • 7% said they had paid more attention to good nutrition
  • 65% said they had paid less attention to good nutrition.
  • 79% said they wanted to continue their career as a teacher.
  • 14% said they would only keep on teaching because they felt they had no choice.
  • Sadly, 7% said that the stress of the year had brought an end to their teaching career.
  • 14% of respondents said they had sought medical advice for issues related to the stress of teaching this year.
  • None had sought counselling.

This final statistic is, to me, evidence of our collective resilience and commitment: we’re stressed and we’re tired, but we keep on going.

I do wonder, though, if we as a profession need to be more proactive in seeking help and support when we are experiencing increased levels of stress and tiredness, and possibly not taking such great care of ourselves at the same time.

The key to my own determination to keep going this year has been that I wasn’t actually doing it for me– I was doing it for the kids. I suspect that most of us feel the same way. It’s not just me, and not just my colleagues, having a hard year. It’s everyone. Every family, every community, every workplace, every career, every school, every student… you get the idea.

If I can model resilience, positive attitude and commitment to making the best of a tough situation, that’s exactly what I’m going to do my best to achieve.

I hope my students are encouraged by my commitment to them. I hope they learn from my example. And boy oh boy, do I hope their parents are watching, because I want them to love this school and to understand how much we value them and their children.

I have been enormously encouraged by a my colleagues, and some have said that I have been an encouragement to them. The members of my faculty office have been a lifeline for me as we laughed, cried, and collaborated together throughout the experience of teaching remotely for two terms of this most challenging year. The entire staff of my school committed from the outset to making the whole deal of working from home and teaching online something that was achievable, coordinated and professionally delivered. “That will do” was never going to be acceptable.

At the end of every school term, I comment that the break is well-deserved. That has never been more true than at this end of 2020.

As the final term of 2020 winds down to a close and teachers (and students!) everywhere look forward to the Christmas break, I truly hope we are all able to stop working long enough to get some much needed rest and downtime.

Merry Christmas, Teachers. You’ve earned it.

End-of-Term Teacher Tired.
#TeacherLife #TeacherTwitter #survey

Yet Another Reason Why I Love Where I Live.

Our local council has created this gorgeous candlelight memorial for all the people in our local government area  of Corangamite Shire who have passed away in 2020.

Most of these people‘a families were very limited in how many they could have at the funeral. The way we have mourned and comforted one another has had to change. Our ability to travel and see each other has been limited or, at times, impossible.

Gestures like this help us to feel less alone, and to know that our loved ones are remembered. It’s very touching that the community as a whole is able to acknowledge their absence from the towns and social circles in which they lived.

There are 129 lights burning through the night. That’s 129 families like mine that have been changed forever. And, I’m sure, it’s 129 families who appreciate the thoughtfulness of a local government that thinks beyond budgets and logistics to stop for as long as it takes to light 129 candles, and invite the community to stop, remember and reflect.

My sister and I went to see the memorial tonight, to pay tribute to our dad and to share the sight with our family interstate via video.

Thank you to the Corangamite Shire and the local community members who helped make this happen. It is very much appreciated.

Fairy Lights: A Reflection on Brokenness at Christmas Time.

I wrote this poem a while ago, but it seems so relevant at this point of 2020. Every time my Christmas fairy lights flick on lately, I think of this poem.

It’s the time of year when people want me to attend parties and end of year gatherings for work or other groups. They want me to sparkle, but I feel as though I am still so tangled and frayed and broken, I just can’t.

Yet again, I find myself ‘faking normal’ and smiling and nodding while wishing I could go home and go to bed instead. It’s a well-practised skill that, quite honestly, I wish I had never had to learn in the first place.

Hence my choice of new Christmas decoration, hung lovingly on my tree in honour of the mess that 2020 has been.

It’s fair to say I enjoy this bauble far more than I have enjoyed this year.

Photo by Matheus Bertelli on Pexels.com

Just like a bundle of fairy lights, stowed carelessly,

I am a mess of entangled emotions

A jumbled catastrophe, knotted and messy,

Some parts are missing, some coloured glass broken;

Synapses misfire in slightly frayed wires:

There’s danger in causing my power to surge,

I don’t always light up the way others desire

But I can be quite lovely when I have the urge.

©2017 Joanne Van Leerdam

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Christmas in Australia.

For my overseas friends, a few notes about how Australians celebrate Christmas.

My comment yesterday that I was playing songs full of snow even though I live in Australia generated some interest in what Christmas is like here, so I thought I might share a little about how Australians celebrate Christmas.

I’ve got some of the gifts wrapped and under the tree.

Many of our traditions are the same as everyone else’s. We sing the same songs, send Christmas cards, decorate with Christmas trees, tinsel, wreaths and lights, and hope that Santa will visit and leave us gifts. We have Christmas music in all the shops and soppy Christmas movies on TV.

There are a few key differences though.

Christmas happens in summer here. When we sing ‘Let it Snow’ and ‘White Christmas’ it’s wishful thinking— usually because it’s ridiculously hot outside. My little Canadian spruce is decked with tinsel and fairy lights, but it will probably never see snow– at Christmas, or at any other time of year.

Because it is summer, kids are on their long break between one school year and the next. Term 4 finishes sometime in the middle of December, and the kids return to school sometime toward the end of January.

This gives people the opportunity to more easily travel longer distances to visit family, or to spend Christmas near the beach or in other desired locations. While this certainly happens in other countries, Australians have made a time-honoured national tradition of ‘going away for the Christmas Holidays’.

Some of the traditional Christmas songs like Jingle Bells have been rewritten to reflect Australian conditions, and we also have some of our own songs that probably aren’t sung anywhere else, except for maybe New Zealand. Many of these are less well-known now than they used to be, partly because our culture is significantly led by American and British influences, partly because their lyrics and subjects are outdated, and mostly because they were ridiculously hard to sing.

Many of us still have traditional Christmas food like turkey and ham, but we’ll often have salads on the side instead of hot vegetables. Some people barbecue steaks and other meats instead, while others opt for seafood for Christmas dinner. The traditional Christmas pudding is often accompanied or even replaced by cold desserts like cheesecake, trifle or iconic Aussie desserts like pavlova or chocolate ripple cake.

It’s still a day for family and friends, but lots of Australians spend Christmas or Boxing Day gathered at the beach or by the pool. Christmas meals are often eaten outdoors, hopefully under cover or in the shade. It’s not unusual for Aussies to enjoy their post-Christmas-dinner nap in the cool of the air-conditioning or in front of the fan.

Our Christmas table setting last year, in our outdoor courtyard.

One of my absolute favourite Australian Christmas traditions is Carols by Candlelight. Crowds gather outdoors, often picnic style, and sing Christmas songs together. There are local events all over the country, but there is also the nationally televised showbiz charity event held in Melbourne on Christmas Eve every year. Santa usually makes an appearance, as do various celebrities of TV and the music industry who, supported by a band, an orchestra, and premium choirs, entertain and delight the nation.

You can see clips from Carols by Candlelight of previous years on YouTube, including my favourite performance of recent years: Grown Up Christmas List by Aussie singers Silvie Paladino and Anthony

Because of Australia’s longitude, we start our Christmas Day while most of the world is still full of anticipation on Christmas Eve. Only New Zealand and some small Polynesian nations of the Pacific Ocean start their Christmas before we do.

While the rest of the world is waking up to Christmas morning, Australians can often be found gathering outdoors again for a game of cricket in the back yard, or another dip in the pool or at the beach.

On the 26th, many Australians will tune in to the Boxing Day Test Match— also cricket— on the TV or radio, broadcast from the Melbourne Cricket Ground where up to 100 000 dedicated fans attend the game in person for each of the five days scheduled for the match. Don’t let that surprise you – we’re a sports-mad nation, and the cricket lovers among us are as dedicated as any.

After all the excitement of Christmas, things settle down for a day or two before we get the barbecues out and gather together again to celebrate New Year’s Eve.