Today, I have two examples of artists who don’t take the Christmas holiday too seriously.
First, from my home state of Texas, comes a song that has become a regular part of my holiday listening experience.
“Merry Christmas from the Family” is a holiday song written by alternative country artist Robert Earl Keen. It has become extremely popular among the fans within his cult following. The song was first recorded for Keen’s 1994 album, Gringo Honeymoon. A live version also appears on his 1996, No. 2 Live Dinner. The popularity of the song led Keen to write a sequel song, “Happy Holidays Y’all,” for his 1998 album Walking Distance, and to publish a book, Merry Christmas from the Family, in 2001. The original song, the book, and the sequel all center around the same cast of characters in Keen’s humorous vision of a Texas style Christmas. Merry Christmas from the Family – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All! is a Grammy Award-winning Christmas special that debuted on Comedy Central on November 23, 2008.
The plot is that Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report, while heading to the film studio to shoot his Christmas special with Elvis Costello, becomes trapped in a cabin in “bear country” (upstate New York or Vermont) when he hears a bear prowling outside. A number of his friends stop by the cabin to sing Christmas songs with him as Stephen tries to find ways to escape the cabin and make his Christmas as special as possible, ending by revealing that the titular “greatest gift of all” is the DVD release of the special.
There are others in the Christmas story that are often overlooked; the mothers and their innocent children massacred by the order of King Herod.
13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son”.
16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
18 “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
The “Coventry Carol” is an English Christmas carol dating from the 16th century. The carol was traditionally performed in Coventry in England as part of a mystery play called The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors. The play depicts the Christmas story from chapter two in the Gospel of Matthew: the carol itself refers to the Massacre of the Innocents, in which Herod ordered all male infants under the age of two in Bethlehem to be killed, and takes the form of a lullaby sung by mothers of the doomed children. For more information see: Coventry Carol – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Holly (Ilex) and ivy (Hedera helix) have been used as winter decorations since ancient times. Adorning homes with these plants freshened the air and their greenery reminded occupants of the coming spring. The cold, dark days of winter turned much of the landscape dreary. However, many varieties of holly and ivy remained green year round, signifying eternal life. And the bright red berries of some holly plants were cheerful spots of color.
Additionally, holly trees and shrubs and the ornamental vine ivy were each believed to have magical properties. In many ancient cultures, the howling, icy winds in the dark nights of winter were believed to be ghosts and demons. Decorating with holly and ivy was thought to ward off these evil spirits.
Holly’s Use During Winter Festivals
Holly has long been associated with winter holidays. Early Europeans used holly as ornamentation during their winter solstice celebrations. The winter solstice, which occurs in late December in the northern hemisphere, was the longest night of the year and signified the gradual lengthening of days and coming spring — a cause for celebration. In Norse mythology, holly was associated with Thor, god of thunder, and holly plants grown by the home were thought to prevent lightning strikes. Ancient Romans used holly as
decor during Saturnalia, a festival dedicated to Saturn, god of agriculture and husbandry.
Holly’s symbolism of the new season made it an appropriate and colorful ornament for winter festivities.
The use of ivy during winter also goes back thousands of years. The fact that ivy, like some hollies, stayed green throughout the year led some to believe it had magical properties. Consequently this led to its use as home decor in the winter months. It too, symbolized eternal life, rebirth and the spring season. In some cultures, ivy was a symbol of marriage and friendship, perhaps due to its tendency to cling. In ancient Rome, ivy was associated with Bacchus (known as Dionysus in Greek mythology), god of wine and revelry. Accordingly, it was sometimes used as trimming in ancient festivals. Though not as popular as holly, ivy was still used in festivals held during winter by many cultures.
Secrecy and Symbolism
Over time, many customs from pagan (non-Christian) celebrations were incorporated by Christians into religious holidays. For a period, ivy was banished as decor by Christians due to its ability to grow in shade, which led to its association with secrecy and debauchery. Nevertheless, the custom of decorating with holly and ivy during Christian holidays was eventually accepted. Religious meaning was later attributed to the physical properties of holly, in particular. Its sharp leaves were said to symbolize Christ’s crown of thorns and its red berries the blood he shed.
Today, holly and ivy are still used in our celebration of modern Christmas. They are often used in the creation of Christmas wreaths, boughs and other trimmings. While belief in their mystical powers may have dissipated, nonetheless they remain beautiful decorations for the holiday home.