I promised my co-host Ryan Gatenby that, when we did our Christmas special this coming Friday at 9:10 AM on WBIG 1280 AM, I would have uplifting stuff to discuss. Or, if not uplifting, at least not patently offensive. To get things started in the right direction, I’m going to re-post an article I wrote way back on November 20 of last year. This was months before I was allowed anywhere near the radio show so it will all be new to the listeners. And, since last November we have added a ton of readers, my guess it will be new to most of you as well.
Ladies and gentlemen, the history of wassailing.
In keeping with my, inadvertent, Christmas theme, I thought I’d take a minute to talk about some of the time honored traditions that make people feel good this time of year. While many folks are stunned when they find out that baby Jesus wasn’t born under a glowing pine tree and there’s not one single mention of the little drummer boy anywhere in the Gospels (neither synoptic nor gnostic), the stories still live on.
One tradition has become a staple of the holiday season; caroling. Or, to be more historically accurate, wassailing. Now, speaking as an Irish cliché, this is one tradition I understand. Like all well conceived ideas, this one was spawned by drunks with rocks. Nothing says “Happy Holidays!” to me more than the thought of staggering by people’s homes and demanding booze. Let the kids keep the watered down version of candy and costumes for Halloween, I’m sticking with the grown ups and threatening anyone who doesn’t fill my cup.
Monica Garske from AOL News takes a joyous look at the history of caroling.
Christmas caroling has long been a favorite tradition of church groups, elderly choirs and children, but did you know that the first groups of carolers were nothing but a bunch of rowdy drunks?
That’s the tune from David McKillop, senior vice president of programming for the History Channel, who recently talked to AOL News about the network’s upcoming holiday special, “The Real Story of Christmas,” premiering (ED:in 2010).
The TV special examines the surprising historical origins of our most bizarre Christmas customs, including why some of us go door to door singing holiday songs to any strangers who will listen.
McKillop said the origin of caroling dates back to the pagan celebration of the winter solstice, when Christmas was regarded as a festival of pure joy and drunken revelry. Oh, and prayer was involved somewhere in there too.
According to McKillop, groups of poor medieval carolers would go around to houses singing and begging for food and drinks, threatening to throw rocks through the windows of anyone who refused to give them a handout.
They literally “went medieval” on people.
“They would get very, very rowdy. Eventually, the drunken revelry got too out of hand, and Christmas was banned for years in America in the 16th and 17th centuries,” explained McKillop.
Sheesh. Sounds like an episode of “Carolers Gone Wild.” If you don’t open your door to singing strangers this year, no one will blame you.
McKillop said those same ancient winter-solstice celebrations — which usually lasted 12 days — gave rise to the tradition of burning a yule log, often mentioned in classic Christmas songs.
“People would try to find the biggest log possible to burn in a fireplace, to keep the light and warmth going during the 12 days of the feast,” he said.
Another fun fact: Santa Claus wasn’t always so chummy and cheery. In fact, he was kind of a downer who ran with a bad crowd.
McKillop said the St. Nick of old European legend was said to be accompanied not by elves but by an impish little devil creature named “Krampus” who beat up and kidnapped naughty children.
“If kids were bad, Krampus would leave them bad gifts. I think that’s where the idea of giving people coal for Christmas first sprouted. That Krampus was mean,” said McKillop.
Garske and McKillop take a look at quite a few other traditions, so make sure to read the whole article.
So, this holiday season, when you’re hanging with a sexy, little, elf (yes, that’s our little Ashley dressed as an elf), drinking yourself into oblivion and trying to convince all who are unfortunate enough to listen that you’re really a tenor, just remember that you’re honoring a centuries old custom.
And if anyone doesn’t like it, throw a rock at them.
You’ll be pleased to know that our institutions of higher learning are helping maintain the high standards set by the carolers and choirs of our ancestors. Feel free to sing along.
Listen to Bill McCormick on WBIG AM 1280, every Thursday morning around 9:10!