Painful Truth: Traditional Christmas includes booze, riots, and heresy

So you want a traditional Christmas?

None of those fakey artificial trees, no pop stars singing brand-new carols with references to Twitter and global warming, and no consumerism. Just a nice simple celebration.

Okay. Hope you like damp toast, songs about heresy, and being blackout drunk.

First, let’s look at Christmas carols.

The oldest carols sung around Christmas were in Latin, and not to be snooty, but because Latin was what people spoke back in the third and fourth centuries. Many of them were austere songs that were aimed at stamping out Arianism, and we all know that Arianism was declared heresy by the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD!

But almost all the carols we know come from the Victorian age. Some of them were original compositions, created due to the huge increase in interest in Christmas, which was in turn sparked by popular commercial writers such as Charles Dickens, and by Queen Victoria (who helped elevate the Christmas tree from some weird German custom into a widespread trend).

Some of the carols repurposed old tunes, such as Good King Wenceslaus, which used a traditional Easter melody and married it to the story of a Czech saint. Somehow it became an English Christmas carol standard.

Carolling is linked to the idea of wassailing, which is about as traditionally Christmas as you can get.

Wassailing was a  winter practice in which bands of people (often young men) would visit their lord’s house, and other homes, and demand desserts (figgy pudding) and booze. Wassail is basically spiced hard apple cider.

As you can imagine, this sometimes got out of hand. There was occasional violence and property damage, especially if people didn’t pony up the booze and food fast enough.

Of course, to be really traditional, you’re going to have to wait until January 5 or 6 (Twelfth Night) to do your wassailing. To be really, really traditional, you’re going to need an apple orchard. Farmers in England’s West Country used to wassail the orchards in the winter, drinking and splashing cider on the roots and singing in hopes of a bountiful apple harvest in the coming year.

Some regions had a local “queen” who would hang cider-soaked toast in the branches of the trees. I have not been able to find out why, but I assume it has something to do with alcohol consumption and a lack of cable TV.

Before Dickens, in fact, alcohol was a key component of Christmas. Which is why another repeated tradition is trying to ban Christmas, as the Puritans did from 1647 to 1660. This was followed by riots.

Is there a lesson in this?

I think the only lesson is that the idea of a “traditional” Christmas, especially in the secular trimmings that surround the original religious meaning, is impossible to pin down. If your traditional holiday includes a plastic tree, a couple of gallons of store-bought eggnog, and Santa hats for your pets, that’s fine. As long as it brings you some seasonal joy, it’s a perfectly traditional Christmas.

Just Posted

Langley takedown linked to murder conspiracy case

Dramatic arrest was part of Taskforce Tourniquet, a multi-agency police gang investigation

Aldergrove community stakeholders react to town centre plans

‘The mall has been an eyesore for many years,’ says Home Hardware owner

WATCH: Langley teen singer a finalist in international competition

Langley’s Sean Thomas, 17, is a finalist in the International Songwriting Competition.

Music students to stage protest performances in Langley

Sunday demonstration planned to oppose budget cuts at Kwantlen Polytechynic University

Langley Mustangs runner sets Canadian record

Sarah Inglis celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with a standout performance at the Canadian All Comers race

After mosque attacks, New Zealand bans ‘military-style’ guns

The gunman killed 50 in a Christchurch mosque

B.C., feds accused of ‘environmental racism’ over Site C, Mount Polley

Amnesty International Canada says governments failed to recognize threats to Indigenous peoples

New Leger polls suggests federal Liberals lagging Conservatives

Overall, 31 per cent of respondents polled said they would vote for Justin Trudeau’s Liberals

Two men charged in Lower Mainland grocery store stabbing in 2018

Coquitlam RCMP say the incident is ‘believed to be targeted’

Number of homeless deaths more than doubled in B.C. as opioid crisis set in

New data shows trend between more overdose deaths and the number of people dying in the street

Four people spat on in ‘random, unprovoked’ assaults: Vancouver police

Police ask additional victims to come forward after woman in a wheelchair spat on

Driver sought in Vancouver hit-and-run that sent two to hospital

A man and woman were crossing Fraser Street early Monday morning when they were hit

Teen girl accused in plot to attack Kamloops school with weapons out on bail

Judge warned the girl she would be back in jail if she threatened to shoot anyone

Crown drops one assault charge against B.C. man linked to human remains probe

Curtis Wayne Sagmoen will still stand trial on one count of assault causing bodily harm in December.

Most Read