Sunday, December 2, 2012

"Christmas in the 19th Century" from VOA




VOICE ONE:

I'm Steve Ember.

VOICE TWO:

And I'm Shirley Griffith with THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English. Today we present a special program on Christmas traditions in the United States during the first half of the nineteenth century.

VOICE TWO:

A German postcard.
Christmas trees were
small in the 19th Century.
During this period, Christmas was a very different kind of holiday than it is today. There was no set way of celebrating the day, which was not yet an official holiday. Communities around the country honored the day in different ways. Some observed Christmas as an important Christian religious day honoring the birth of Jesus. Others celebrated the day with parties, music, drinking and eating. And, some communities did not celebrate the day at all.

VOICE ONE:

But, it was during this period that Americans began to reinvent the holiday by combining ancient Christmas traditions from different cultures with modern American influences. You can think about the historical people we have been talking about, Andrew Jackson, Martin van Buren and others, and the ways they too might have celebrated Christmas.

(MUSIC)

VOICE TWO:

Geoffrey Crayon and Guests
In eighteen nineteen, the popular American writer Washington Irving wrote a series of five essays published in a book called "The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent."

VOICE TWO:

The essays describe a wealthy British landowner who invites his farm workers into his home to celebrate Christmas. The landowner recreates a traditional Christmas as it would have been celebrated in the distant past. Irving praised this looking back to ancient traditions. He liked the idea of different levels of society coming together to enjoy a festive and peaceful holiday. Washington Irving seemed to express concern about the lack of such unifying Christmas traditions in modern America.

VOICE ONE:

Penne Restad wrote a book "Christmas in America: A History." It shows how Americans began to slowly shape Christmas into a unifying national holiday during the first half of the nineteenth century. She describes how Christmas had different meanings for Americans who came from different cultural and religious backgrounds. Many immigrants brought Christmas traditions from their own countries.

VOICE TWO:

Religion played a big role in how an American might celebrate the holiday. Calvinist Christians banned the celebration of Christmas. But groups such as Episcopalians and Moravians honored the day with religious services and seasonal decorations.

VOICE TWO:

By mid-century, Christian groups began to ignore their religious differences over the meaning of Christmas and honored the day in special ways.

(MUSIC)

VOICE ONE:

Christmas became an important time for families to celebrate at home. More and more Christian Americans also began to follow the European traditions of Christmas trees and giving gifts. Christians believed that the tree represented Jesus and was also a sign of new beginnings. German immigrants brought their tradition of putting lights, sweets and toys on the branches of evergreen trees placed in their homes.

VOICE TWO:

This tradition of setting up a Christmas tree soon spread to many American homes. So did the practice of giving people presents. As these traditions increased in popularity, the modern trade and business linked to Christmas also grew.

VOICE ONE:

Louisiana Snowless
Sleigh Ride
As Christmas became more popular, some states declared the day a state holiday. Louisiana was the first state to make the move in eighteen thirty-seven. By eighteen sixty, fourteen other states had followed. It was not until eighteen seventy that President Ulysses Grant made Christmas a federal holiday.

VOICE TWO:

Americans already knew old Christmas songs that came from England and other areas of Europe. But many new American Christmas songs started to become popular. For example, in eighteen forty-nine, a religious leader from Massachusetts wrote the words to "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear." The song "Jingle Bells" appeared seven years later. And, a year later, a religious leader in Williamsport, Pennsylvania wrote the song "We Three Kings of Orient Are."

(MUSIC)

VOICE ONE:

Santa, napping on the job
And of course, no discussion of Christmas would be complete without talking about of one of the holiday's most famous representations, Santa Claus.

VOICE ONE:

This character is based on the story of Saint Nicholas, a Christian holy person believed to have lived in the third century. Saint Nicholas became known as a protector of children. In his role as a Christmas hero, different cultures have given him different names. These include Sinterklaas, Kris Kringle and Father Christmas. But for most Americans his most popular name would become Santa Claus.

VOICE TWO:

In the nineteenth century, many Dutch immigrants living in the United States celebrated the feast of Saint Nicholas on December sixth. Saint Nicholas was especially important to New Yorkers because of their history as a Dutch colony. In eighteen-oh-nine, Washington Irving published his "History of New York." It lists Saint Nicholas as the patron saint of New Yorkers. He describes the saint wearing a low hat, large pants, and smoking a pipe. Does this description sound familiar?

VOICE ONE:

Clement Clarke Moore
In eighteen twenty-two, an American professor named Clement Clarke Moore wrote a poem that redefined the image of Saint Nicholas. It was called "Account of a Visit from Saint Nicholas." He did not expect it to be published. He wrote it as a Christmas present for his young children. In recent years, experts have questioned whether Moore actually wrote the poem.

VOICE ONE:

Some believe it was written by Henry Livingston, a map maker in New York who wrote and published funny poems in his spare time.

VOICE TWO:

But whoever wrote this classic poem, it has since become a favorite around the world. This poem combines the traditions of Santa Claus, seasonal decorations and gift-giving that have come to define Christmas in America. We leave you with Clement Clarke Moore's poem, popularly known as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."

(MUSIC)

VOICE THREE:

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be Saint Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! On Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and Saint Nicholas, too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney Saint Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes -- how they twinkled! His dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

(MUSIC)

VOICE ONE:

Our program was written and produced by Dana Demange. Jim Tedder read the poem. I'm Steve Ember.

VOICE TWO:

And I'm Shirley Griffith. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs are online at voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION. And happy holidays from all of us in VOA Special English.

COMPREHENSION CHECK

1. Saint Nick says, "Now dash away, dash away, dash away all". Who is he talking to?
a: the people in the house
b: the man who is spying on him
c: the objects below
d: his eight reindeer

2. The new American Christmas song "Jingle Bells" was written in ____________.
a: 1849
b: 1856
c: 1870
d: 1860

3. Saint Nicholas, a Christian holy person from the 3rd Century AD is the basis for today's famous mythic figure: ____________________ .
a: Sinterklaas
b: Kris Kringle
c: Father Christmas
d: Santa Claus

4. Washington Irving, in "The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent" applauds a wealthy British landowner who _____________________ .
a: creates the first Christmas tree farm
b: gives his farm workers the day off
c: invites his farm workers into his home to celebrate a traditional Christmas
d: turns on electric Christmas lights to make his mansion look festive

5. In 1870, President _________________ made Christmas an official national holiday.
a: Ulysses Grant
b: Abraham Lincoln
c: Woodrow Wilson
d: Franklin Roosevelt

6. From this article, you can probably conclude that, in the 19th Century, Christmas was more ________________ it is today.
a: popular than
b: religious than
c: expensive than
d: important than

7. The tradition of putting up a Christmas tree with lights and decorations comes from immigrants from _________________ .
a: Spain
b: Italy
c: Germany
d: Ireland

8. "Twas the Night Before Christmas" was probably written by ____________________ .
a: Santa Claus
b: Michael Jackson
c: Clement Clarke Moore
d: Henry Livingstone

9. Penne Restad wrote a book called "Christmas in America: A History". In it, she tells how in the first half of the 19th Century ________________________ .
a: many immigrants brought Christmas traditions from their own countries
b: Americans decided Christmas shouldn't be a national holiday
c: Christmas had the same meaning for everyone, regardless of their backgrounds
d: Most Americans didn't celebrate Christmas

10. "The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow gave a lustre of mid-day to objects below" means that ______________________________________
a: the moon was not full so that objects outside were not clearly visible
b: snow covered everything so, even though there was a full moon, nothing could be seen
c: the combination of the full moon and the white snow made it seem like noon outside, so that it was easy to see anything on the lawn as though it were daytime
d: the strange light from the moon reflected by the snow made objects appear to be different from what they really were

'Twas the Night Before Christmas from Youtube. This recording by Milton Cross was one of the most popular recordings in the 1950s:




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