While I've always like the Christmas song God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, it wasn't one I grew up singing. I've mostly heard the song around Christmas time playing on the radio or other music outlet.
After Paul and Pap recorded the song on their Songs of Christmas cd it became my favorite version. I recently checked out one of my favorite Christmas books - Stories Behind the Best Loved Songs of Christmas by Ace Collins to see if it had an entry for God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. It did and as usual Collins details a fascinating history of the song.
The song was written over 500 years ago. The story of a song lasting for that number of years is fascinating in itself, but for me the most interesting part of the history detailed by Collins is the change that has occurred in the meaning of the words used in the song since that time.
"When modern people say “Merry” Christmas, the word merry means happy. When “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” was written, merry had a very different meaning. Robin Hood’s “Merry Men” might have been happy, but the merry that described them meant great and mighty. Thus, in the Middle Ages, a strong army was a merry army, a great singer was a merry singer, and a mighty ruler was a merry ruler.
So when the English carolers of the Victorian era sang, “merry gentlemen,” they meant great or mighty men. Ye means you, but even when translated to “God rest you mighty gentlemen,” the song still makes very little sense. This is due to another word that has a much different meaning in today’s world and a lost punctuation mark.
The word rest in “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” simply means keep or make. Yet to completely uncover the final key to solving this mystery of meaning, a comma needs to be placed after the word “merry.” Therefore, in modern English, the first line of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” should read “God make you mighty, gentlemen.” Using this translation, the old carol suddenly makes perfect sense, as does the most common saying of the holidays, “Merry Christmas.”
You might wonder why, when most didn’t fully understand the real meaning of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” the old carol remained popular. The world’s love for this song is probably due to its upbeat musical piece paired with the telling of the most upbeat story the world has ever known. Those who sing it naturally get caught up in the celebratory mood of the message and embrace the same kind of emotions that those first to visit the baby Jesus must have felt. As the angel told the shepherds, “I bring you news of great joy.” That joy and the power of faith can be felt and experienced in every note and word of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” You just have to know how to translate the words into the language of the day to have a very Mighty Christmas!"
Jump over to this page to read Collins piece on the song in it's entirety.
A version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is on Pap and Paul's Songs of Christmas cd.
Click on the link below to see if you like their version as much as I do. (you may have to hit your back button to come back to this page)
If you're interested in purchasing one of Paul and Pap's cds- Songs of Christmas you can jump over to the Blind Pig & the Acorn Etsy Store and pick one up.
My big snow is still hanging around. We were finally able to get all the cars off the hill so we're back to our normal daily lives, but we're still slipping and sliding off the back deck and through the yard to the chicken coop.
All my life I've heard if snow lays on the ground for three days it's waiting on more. I've often seen the old piece of folklore prove true and you all know I'm keeping my fingers crossed having snow on the ground for a whole week means I'll get lots of snow this winter!
Here's some other snow folklore I've gathered from Blind Pig Readers over the years.
- If it snows crosslegged it'll be a deep one
- If it's cloudy and smoke rises it might snow
- The number of days old the moon is at the first snow tells how many snows there'll be that winter
- Wait until the snow flies before you rob wild bees
- If you scrub your wooden floors with water from melted snow they'll turn black
- Dry snow scattered over a dusty floor and quick swept out will beat any carpet sweeper ever you'll buy
- The day of the month the first measurable snow falls is supposed to be the number of measurable snows that winter (Maybe I'll really get eight snows this winter!)
- Chimney smoke hugging the ground; there snow will soon be found
Got any other snow folklore? If so please share it with us!
Granny with her mother Gazzie 1963 - Ranger NC
We have always wished everyone Christmas Eve Gift and Christmas Gift...my family and my husband's both used this wish. My mother and my mother-in-law both said it came down through their families. Their parents and grandparents used this term. Back in the 1800's and early 1900's people did not have money for presents...kids might get a piece of penny candy or a piece of fruit, but not much else. Families and friends would travel to a neighbors house for a holiday meal, and upon greeting the visitors they would say 'Christmas Gift'. The visitor was the gift! And of course the visit...it was being happy to spend time with each other and share a holiday. My mother was born in 1930, and her parents in the late 1800's. Mom remembered Christmas with no gifts, just family and maybe something sweet to eat. One year, her dad exchanged his boots to a man for 2 little dolls...one for my mom and one for her baby sister. Hard times back then.
When I was growing up the very first thing Granny did on Christmas morning was call her sisters and say "Christmas Gift" loudly into the phone. Some years one of her sisters would beat her to the punch and call her first.
Once our gifts were opened on Christmas morning we went to Granny's mother, Gazzie's house to eat Christmas Dinner. Throughout the evening a stream of people would drop by to visit. One bunch would say their goodbyes and then before you knew it they were replaced with the next bunch coming in the front door. It seemed every time the door opened to a new face someone would shout "Christmas Gift."
I never gave the little game Granny and her family played much thought when I was growing up. It was only after I started the Blind Pig and The Acorn that I learned the ritual was wide spread throughout the mountains of Appalachia.
This is very true story that took place in the Mountains of Marble North Carolina. The year was 1959. There was a blizzard of snow on the ground, but us old mountains folks never let snow keep us put in the house. Matter of fact we had deep snows in the winter while I was growing up and we never would have labeled this one a blizzard but now days it would be.
Before lunch we opened packages and were amazed with all the goodies. I got a box of chocolates and a necklace from my boyfriend Ed. We couldn’t wait to eat Miss Julie’s turkey and dressing and apple pies along with other food stuff on the table.
I was so much in love or I guess you could say I had more stars in my eyes than love in my heart. Dad had bought me an old Chevrolet car (1954). That thing would run like a salty dog. My boyfriend was working on him a car. He braved the weather to come see me. He only lived as city folks would say three block away in the big town of Marble.
We watched the birds feed on an old crude piece of tin over saw horses. We had one bird come back three years who only had one leg, sure enough High Pockets was there feasting on bird seeds and dried cornbread. While sitting watching the bird I wrote a song: It is snowy in the mountains of Caroline the ground a blanket of snow, the poor little birds they have no home while we sit in a warm cozy house.
We arose and went to the dining room for more entertaining while I sat down at the piano and struck up a tune for my song. My friend seemed to enjoy or pretended he did anyways. I became bored and said, "Hey let’s take the car out for a spin." Miss Julie had big ears that evening after lunch and voiced her opinion right away. My mentor (Dad) chimed in and said, "Miss Julie let the kids take the car out and Ed can drive."
She knew when she had lost the vote and away we ran to get started. Last thing I heard Miss Julie say was get your heavy coat and may God be with you two nuts. I bet Dad got the third degree for allowing us to go, but God does take care of drunks, idiots, and babies.
We went across the railroad tracks and never slid once. We got out on the main drag of Marble where we saw another idiot who was drunker than a skunk. He was sliding all over the road and I just knew he was going to hit us and tear up my car. We couldn’t turn around and when we got up near him he slid over to the other side and licked out his false teeth at us.
We had laughter on a cold day mixed with fear and pleasure. We finally got turned around and headed for home. We made it fine until we started back across the railroad track. Ed tried and tried but we were stranded. I tried to think of a way to get us across the track. Ed said we need some traction "Does your Dad have any toe sacks in the barn?" I didn’t want to leave the car at the mercy of the drunk, but I had no choice. We bailed out for the barn and got some toe sacks for traction and in no time we were back home safe and sound.
Telling the story was a delight for me. We had Miss Julie and Dad in stitches for over an hour. Miss Julie was concerned for the drunk. I was too. I ask God to take care of him and p.s. for him not to lose his dentures.
This is one memory of many in my book of memories on Christmas Day.
Mary Lou McKillip
I hope you enjoyed Mary Lou's Christmas memory as much as I did!
1. Our pressure tank has been acting up for the last few months. The Deer Hunter knew he needed to change it, but was hoping to put the chore off till after hunting season. A few Friday mornings ago the tank was on it's last legs for sure. The Deer Hunter was supposed to take off after work for a weekend hunting trip. He said he guessed he'd just stay home and fix the tank. I said "The girls and I will barely be here this weekend it can wait till Sunday." He went on to deer camp and came back with a tank a friend gave him. It looked all beat up so I said "Are you sure that thing will work?" He said his friend said it was working when he took it out and he even tested it and it was fine. The Deer Hunter got right to work cutting the old tank out and installing the used one. Guess what? It didn't work! It was worse than our old one! Every time someone used the water it sounded like a jet engine getting ready for take off. The next day The Deer Hunter bought a new one and installed it after he got off work. So The Deer Hunter got to install a pressure tank two days in a row and now we have two old tanks laying in our yard.
2. I've had some Blind Pig and The Acorn fanfare recently that has me walking around on cloud nine. First my all time favorite scholar on Appalachian Studies, Loyal Jones, emailed me about the blog. I felt like I was corresponding with Elvis! And if that wasn't good enough, Michael Montgomery aka compiler of my favorite source the Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English has been corresponding with me as well. Even more unbelievable to me, Michael may use the Blind Pig as a source in his next issue of the dictionary. Talk about an early Christmas present!
3. Gregory, a Blind Pig reader, sent me a video of StevenSeagulls a few weeks back. I've become slightly obsessed with the band from Finland. Most of their videos are covers of hard rock songs, but done in a totally different manner. They use a variety of instruments including an accordion in some of their videos. I mean whether you like it or not you have to give kudos to someone who can use an accordion in an AC/DC song. Go here to see my favorite video of them.
4. The girls still share my old car. Chitter got a wreath and a bow and ask her Daddy to attach it to the grill so they've been riding around spreading Christmas cheer every where they go. I never knew of anyone putting a wreath on their vehicle until I met The Deer Hunter. Way back in the day when we were dating he made a wreath from cedar trees that grew around Papaw's house and put it on his big brown truck at Christmas.
5. The girls' cd is selling like hotcakes. If you haven't picked up a copy of it yet you need to. You can go here to buy it online or you can pick it up at Foster's Trading Post if you live local. And of course they'll have it for sale at their various gigs during the coming year. You can catch them on December 23 at 5:00 p.m. at the Andrews Brewing Company in Andrews NC and on January 5 at 7:00 p.m. at the John C. Campbell Folk School here in Brasstown NC.
I got the snow I was wishing for!
Last week I heard folks at work teasing about snow coming in at the end of the week, but I really didn't believe it would snow and I was so preoccupied with getting ready for the annual Pressley Christmas Party that was going to happen over the weekend that I didn't think much about it.
Early Friday morning, a little after 5:00 a.m., my phone started going crazy. I'm part of the alert team at work and as soon as I heard the phone I told The Deer Hunter "It must have snowed."
After I completed my necessary duties for work I settled in to watch it snow while I drank my daily cup of Postum. It was just beautiful!
Thinking the snow would soon peter out and that I still had a ton of things to do before we left for Canton I got to work cleaning house. I was elated at not having to go in to work. I felt like I'd been given four extra hours of life (I usually work a half day on Fridays).
First I packed up every thing we needed to take for the Christmas festivities at Aunt Wanda's and then I started vacuuming and cleaning. Every so often I'd notice the power flicker but I kept getting at it hoping to finish my house work.
I finished up about 11:30 and was just about to fix myself something for dinner when I looked out the window. I could not believe how much snow had accumulated! I hurried and caught some water in what I had handy in case the power decided to go off for good.
As I stood and worried about Chatter and The Deer Hunter getting home from work I saw a truck come up the driveway. Chitter said "Who in the world is that?" I said "I think its Chatter." And it was. A nice man at work drove her home. I can't believe he attempted our driveway, but he made it fine.
Chitter ran outside to see her sister and about that time the lights went out.
The Deer Hunter was home directly. I already had a fire built in the wood stove so we set in to enjoying being snowed in together. Aunt Wanda decided she better cancel the big Christmas party since Haywood County was getting the same snow we were so there was nowhere any of us had to be.
Granny's phone doesn't work if the power is off and while we were toasty warm I knew she wouldn't have any heat without the electricity. I was just about to head down there when I got word that Steve, my older brother, had taken her home with him.
The Deer Hunter and I went outside to check things out. The snow was so pretty! I stood staring up in the sky at it until I made myself dizzy. We fed the chickens and The Deer Hunter de-snowed the greenhouse. We wondered around a while and then headed back inside to warm by the fire.
The snow was the perfect kind for coating every available surface no matter how small or delicate and as you can see from the photos I felt like I had to capture every example with my camera.
Once we were inside I quickly realized I had dropped my phone somewhere along our trek so we headed back out to find it. Luckily it didn't take us long.
The power stayed off the rest of the night and most of the next day. Although I love snow more than anything, I do feel for the folks that have to be out in it. There were almost 700 outages in the Blue Ridge EMC service area and that equals about 18,000 people without power. I so appreciate all the hardworking EMC folks who worked to get it all back up and running.
The next morning I was anxious to find out how Granny had made it but everyone's phones were dead and I couldn't get anyone to answer me. I finally took off down the hill to see if I could find them. I ran into Paul along the way and he said Granny was still at Steve's.
Granny's house looked like a Christmas cottage tucked into a winter wonderland.
We walked the rest of the way together and as Paul went in I told him to tell Granny to look out the window and I'd wave at her. I think he thought I was crazy, but I knew she'd want to see me and I sure wanted to see her.
Wouldn't you know I took all those pictures without a memory card in my camera. I almost wanted to cry. Instead I hiked back home, got my card, and did it all over again. Steve's dog Griffin didn't like me coming around the first time. He really didn't like it when I came tromping back. He is the sweetest cutest dog you ever seen except he won't let me get within 10 foot or he'll run. All I have to do is say hello and he skedaddles.
When the water supply I gathered had been depleted The Deer Hunter and Chitter hiked to the creek for water. We boiled some for drinking and cooking and used the rest to flush the potties. I made a tasty pot of chili on the coleman stove and we had a dandy breakfast cooked on it too. The girls said they were sort of sad when the power came back on. I think they enjoyed focusing on taking care of things in a more hands on manner than we usually do.
When The Deer Hunter came in from work on Friday he left his truck at the bottom of the drive. He's been chauffeuring us to where we need to go so we've all been hiking in and out. But even with the extra trouble I'm still glad I got a big snow! The average total for my area was between 6-10 inches. We had ten. It was the prettiest snow I've seen since the white Christmas in 2010 and since we live on the north side of the mountain I'll have a snowy view for at least the rest of the week.
When the girls were small and couldn't find something they wanted to eat I'd send them down to Granny's and Pap's to see what they had. Actually the girls are still known to head down to Granny's for something to eat on occasion. There's usually leftovers in the frig, biscuits on the table, and cornbread on the counter. Not to mention, Granny has a stash of candy in a drawer and a supply of Little Debbies in a cabinet.
We lived too far away from Granny Gazzie to raid her house for food. Since I didn't spend as much time there as my girls do at Granny and Pap's I never felt comfortable prowling through her cabinets or drawers for a snack. But Granny Gazzie did have candy to share.
She always had orange slice candy, stick candy, and those foam looking peanut shaped things. I can never see those candies that I don't think of her offering me a piece, especially at Christmas time.
Over a year ago I came across a recipe for orange slice cake in my favorite Appalachian Cook Book: More Than Moonshine by Sidney Saylor Farr. The recipe immediately made me think of Granny Gazzie, but I never got around to trying it. A few weeks later Granny found the same recipe in the Nov/Dec issue of the NC Farm Bureau Magazine. She made the cake and shared it with us and Chatter just loved it!
- 1 cup margarine or butter (I used butter)
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 eggs
- 1/2 cup buttermilk with 1 tsp baking soda mixed in
- 3 1/2 cups plain flour
- 1 box dates chopped fine (I used the 8oz. box)
- 1 can flake coconut (I didn't have a can-so I used a cup of coconut)
- 2 cups chopped pecans
- 1 10 oz. jar maraschino cherries cut in half
- 1 pound orange sliced candy cut fine (I use the 14 oz bag)
Cream butter and sugar
Add eggs one at a time-mixing well after each.
Alternately add the buttermilk and 3 cups of flour-mixing well after each addition.
Use the remaining 1/2 cup flour to coat candy, dates, nuts, and cherries.
Add flour coated items and coconut to the batter and mix well. It's a very stiff batter at this point.
The recipe calls for a greased and floured 10 inch tube pan baked at 250° for two and half hours. Since I like to share our cake I divide the batter into two regular size loaf pans and two mini loaf pans. I also bump the oven up to 300°. It still takes well over an hour for the cakes to bake, of course the mini loaves finish before the regular size ones.
Even though the Orange Slice Cake takes some time and energy to make it is very good and the flavors make it seem perfect for this time of the year.
Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem was written by Phillips Brooks, the pastor who spoke at Abraham Lincoln's funeral service. Before becoming a pastor, Brooks taught at Boston's Latin School. Brooks was discouraged by his students lack of interest and left his position to attend the Episcopal Theological Seminary. After Brooks graduated in 1859 he was asked to pastor the Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia.
Brooks was very successful. He was widely known as a powerful and persuasive speaker. Under his guidance the church grew and prospered. But as the Civil War began to take a tole on the entire country, members of the church began to fall away and Brooks found it harder and harder to offer them the peace they so desperately needed.
When the war finally ended, Brooks thought the healing of his church and the country might began, however the unexpected death of Lincoln shattered his dreams.
After speaking at Lincoln's funeral Brooks took a sabbatical to the Holy Land in an effort to reconnect with his God and to allow his mind and body to rest. He visited during the Christmas season and was able to ride a horse along the route Joseph and Mary took from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.
As he rode alone in the darkness with the stars shining above him he was moved in an overpowering manner. He felt like he was able to experience a small taste of the magic and wonder that must have been alive on that very first Christmas.
Once Brooks returned from his trip abroad he had a renewed strength to pastor his church. He wanted to share his Christmas in Bethlehem experience with his congregation and the world at large but he always seemed to fall short when he tried to convey the feelings of awe and wonder he experienced.
A few years later, as the Christmas season quickly approached, Brooks tried once more to put his experience into the most meaningful words. Proceeding differently than he had in the past, he simply wrote down what came to mind and as he did Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem was born.
He shared his newly written poem with his friend, Lewis Redner.
Redner was moved by the poem and finally understood the breadth of what his friend had experienced while visiting the Holy Land.
Redner tried in vain to compose a line of music that would fit the words Brooks had penned. On December 24 Redner accepted defeat and went to bed. But all was not lost, the perfect tune came to him in his sleep. The tune fit the poem perfectly.
The song become an instant hit in the Philadelphia area and by the time Brooks died in 1893 Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem had become a favorite Christmas Carol across the country and beyond.
A quote from the book Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas gives us an interesting view of both Brooks and the song:
"In a sermon Brooks once said, "It is while you are patiently toiling at the little tasks of life that the meaning and shape of the great whole of life dawns on you." On a horse, in a tiny village, a half a world away form his home and family, the meaning of Phillips Brooks's life and the purpose behind his work were brought into sharp focus."
I like the quote from Brooks. I firmly believe the little bits of every day life are what make life so precious. Click on the link below to hear Pap and Paul's version of the song (you may need to click your back button to come back to this page).
Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem is my all time favorite Christmas Song and I love Pap and Paul's version of it. The song is on Pap and Paul's cd Songs of Christmas.
You can go here Pap and Paul's Songs of Christmas to purchase a cd of your own.
p.s. I wasn't able to post the Blind Pig yesterday. We were without electricity...I got my snow! I'll tell you all about it one day this week.
*Source: Collins, Ace. Stories behind the best-loved songs of Christmas. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2001. Print.
A few months ago the girls were contacted by the North Carolina Arts Council. The organization is making an effort to reach out to millennials who perform traditional music.
Last week the girls were invited to attend the Millennial Traditional Artists Gathering in Black Mountain NC. The NC Arts Council hosted the event in the hopes that they might help millennial music makers with marketing, grants, and a whole host of other things.
The girls let me tag along and let me tell you we had a great time! We learned a lot and met some wonderful folks to boot. It was very refreshing for the girls to meet and interact with people their age who have the same goal of keeping traditional music alive.
A very bright spot in the day was meeting Wayne Martin, Executive Director of the North Carolina Arts Council.
In 1998 Pap and his brother Ray were awarded the NC Folk Heritage Award for their musical achievements. Wayne was the person who presented the award to them. He was pleased as punch to meet two of Pap's granddaughters and even happier to know they were helping keep the music Pap taught them alive for future generations.
The winter of 1900 had been an unusually bad one. A true story book picture of what a Christmas scene must be like. It seemed as though the bad weather kept roaring into the Shooting Creek Mountains day after day without ceasing. First the freezing rain came, piling up on the earth and timber causing the mountains to sound like a battle was taking place as the trees gave way to the awful weight of tons of accumulating ice. The snow had piled up at the Abraham Anderson cabin there in the Bethabera section of the county with little chance for folks to get any work done other than to break a trail to the barn to feed the animals and to find a decent pole of standing dry timber to fuel the fireplace.
Abraham hadn’t been able to get to the mill that was situated further down the valley to try to buy or trade for a turn of cornmeal so his new wife Mae could make their everyday cake of cornbread for their table. Fact was that if he had been able to get to the old tub mill he wouldn’t have been able to get any meal since the miller wasn’t there to do the grinding. The miller like everyone else in the settlement was shut down solid. Mae, the young bride, had worries that went a little deeper than those of Abraham. Although she was just a recent bride she felt an obligation to provide a good meal for their table as this was the tradition that was understood by most women of the time, young and old alike.
The old peddler, Mr. Bramlett, who came over their way from across the mountain in Georgia and who made his usual rounds every few months with his wagon and team, had not showed up because of the bad weather as well. The folks who depended on him to deliver their short grocery list of coffee, salt and other such items that they couldn’t produce on their small mountain farm were pretty much in the same shape as Abraham and Mae.
Finally the weather began to break sharing a bit of sunshine from time to time to perhaps shorten the life of the thick covering of snow. As night time slowly began to settle upon the valley Mae called to her husband and with a tone of sadness and some measure of defeat in her voice she told him to come and sit down at the table for a meager bite. With her call she explained that this was the last bite of anything in the house for them to eat. There was nothing else left in the house that she could cobble together to be made into another meal.
As they sat down at the table and started to eat their supper they both began to hear faint sounds coming up the cove. Could it be the gentle sounds of trace chains and the crunch of snow falling under the feet of a struggling team? As the sounds came closer, sure enough that was what they both were hearing. It had to be the peddler, Mr. Bramlett! As the sounds came closer, and finally stopped in the yard Abraham stepped out the door to greet this night traveler. A better Christmas gift could not be found on the earth than just to know that sitting outside their door was a wagon that held provisions enough to get them through the darkest and leanest winter that Abraham and his young wife Mae would ever have to endure.
This is a true story often relayed to me by my father many, many times. Abraham was my father’s uncle. My grandfather was married in 1899 there in Shooting Creek and Abraham was next down from him in age, so his marriage to Aunt Mae was very near this time. Aunt Mae and Abraham later moved over to Union County GA where they raised a large family. Uncle Abraham lived until 1957-58 and was taken back to be buried in the Bethabera Church Cemetery. Aunt Mae died in the middle sixties and was buried beside her husband a stones throw from their cabin there in the valley of their birth. My great-grandfather was Col. Bramlett, so not knowing the real name of the peddler I have substituted the Bramlett name. Artistic license??? You understand. -David Anderson
I hope you enjoyed David's Christmas story as much as I did!