Christmas Carols and Candy Canes
About the Guest
Barbara Rainey has finally combined two of her favorite things: Christmas carols and ornaments to create Adore Hymns, a set of eight wooden ornaments embossed with some of the world's most memorable Christmas hymns. Wanting to focus more on the spiritual aspect of the Christmas season, Barbara tells how she designed these ornaments so that families could learn of the rich history of these traditional carols while decorating the tree. Author Ace Collins joins in too, explaining the origin of some of these hymns.
Ace CollinsCiting his Arkansas heritage, Christy Award winning author Ace Collins defines himself as a storyteller. In that capacity, Ace has authored more than seventy books for 25 different publishers that have sold more than 2.5 million copies. His catalog includes novels, biographies, children’s works as well as books on history, culture and faith. He has also been the featured speaker at the National Archives Distinguished Lecture Series, hosted a network television special and is the play-by-play...more
Barbara RaineyAfter graduating from the University of Arkansas with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, Barbara joined the staff of Cru® in 1971. With her husband Dennis, whom she married in 1972, the Rainey’s cofounded FamilyLife®, a ministry committed to helping marriages and families survive and thrive in our generation. Barbara is a frequent speaker and guest on FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s award-winning nationally-syndicated daily radio broadcast. She is the author or coauthor of...more
Barbara tells how she designed AdoreHymn ornaments so that families could learn the rich history of these traditional carols.
Christmas Carols and Candy Canes
Bob: The early church did not celebrate the birth of Christ on an annual basis. In fact, according to Ace Collins, the earliest celebration of the Christmas season was not Christ-centered at all.
Ace: Christmas became an important holiday, really, under Constantine. It was attempting to diffuse the seven-day Winter Solstice—drunken Mardi Gras-kind of thing going on with people. What happened is the Christians would also celebrate the Winter Solstice. They were attempting to put the focus on Christ and, therefore, get rid of some of the sinful nature of the holiday.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, December 9th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. The more we know about the traditions of Christmas, the more meaningful our holiday celebration can be. We’re going to talk about that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. You are really—you’re really into it this year. I almost expect you to come wearing bells on your shoes or something someday.
Dennis: Christmas started, for me, back in January and February when Barbara started working on what she’s unveiled, both last week and this week, here on FamilyLife Today—
Bob: Talking about the ornaments that she has been working on.
Dennis: —Adorenaments®. Last year, she had the Christmas names of Christ—from Luke, and Matthew, and Isaiah. This year, she has the royal names of Christ, which are in the shape of a crown. I’m excited about this, Bob, because I started celebrating Christmas back in January and February when she started working on seven different crowns around seven different names for the Savior.
Bob: And Barbara is back with us again this week. Barbara, welcome back.
Barbara: Thank you, Bob.
Bob: I thought Dennis was going to say, “Christmas started, for me, right after Thanksgiving, when Barbara made me get the boxes out of the Christmas room.” [Laughter]
Dennis: That’s usually the signal.
Barbara: Well, that happens, too. Well, actually it’s year-round; right?
Bob: This year, more year-round—more than ever—
Bob: —I mean, you have been immersed in this project for a long, long time.
Barbara: That’s right; I have been. I’ve been thinking, “Christmas,” for a long time.
Bob: And how does that—does that change the way life is for you in July—if you’re working on ornaments that are going to be hanging on Christmas trees? Does it make you kind of think about Christmas all year-long?
Barbara: Well, it sort of does. Except, by the time July comes around, I’m already finished. [Laughter] So, you know it, doesn’t really; but by the time July comes around, all the stores start putting their things out. So, you know—what can you say?
Bob: That is amazing to see—
Barbara: It is amazing.
Bob: —when that pops up.
Barbara: I’m telling you—they start earlier and earlier.
Dennis: Over our lifetime, we’ve seen it start where it used to be just right after Thanksgiving. Then, it just started creeping back—
Bob: Oh, I know.
Dennis: —and it really is like it’s a year-long season to begin with.
Bob: I got a text from Mary Ann in mid-September—I was out of town.
She texted me and said, “That’s it! I’m not going to…”—and she named this particular store—“anymore because they are already pushing Christmas at me,”—
Barbara: I know.
Bob: —“and it is September!”
Dennis: It’s all about the commercialization of Christmas.
Dennis: I think what has welled up within Christians, who really follow Christ—is they want to go: “How do we recapture Christmas for Jesus Christ? How do we celebrate, truly, who He is and what He came to do?”
Bob: We had a lot of people, last week, who went online to look at the ornaments that you have created—the Adorenaments—that are both the royal names of Christ and, then, the Christmas names from last year. They ordered them for their trees. They also saw you—you put together some ornaments that are about Christmas hymns. Tell me about those.
Barbara: Well, Christmas hymns are such an important part of everyone’s Christmas celebrations. It’s—honestly, it’s one of my favorite parts of the Christmas holiday every year,
partly because I love music and partly because I love the words of the music. I think some of our Christmas hymns have such powerful, rich theology. I just love listening to them, and I wish we didn’t just sing them in December; but none the less, that’s the way it works.
But I also love it because there are still stores that play Christian music—and it is Christmas carols and—
Bob: I know.
Barbara: —and so, they are preaching Christ; and they don’t even know it. I just love that! [Laughter]
Bob: You’re walking through the mall; and here they are singing, “Late in time, behold Him come”—
Barbara: I know. I know.
Bob: —“offspring of a virgin’s womb.” You just go: “Where am I? This is wonderful!”
Barbara: I know. It is wonderful. So, I do love the music of Christmas for that reason.
Bob: So, these ornaments, explain what they are.
Barbara: Well, it’s a set of eight ornaments—or you can get a set of four if you only want four of them—but there are eight. Each ornament has the name of a well-known hymn that most of us are familiar with at Christmas. Then, on the back side of the ornament, it explains, in a very brief paragraph, the origin of the song—the story of who wrote it, when, and why.
Dennis: And this one is Hark! the Herald Angels Sing. On the back, it says: “Charles Wesley, who wrote thousands of songs, penned a Christmas carol in 1739 called Hark! How All the Welkin Rings. The song spread quickly but soon created a mild controversy when Charles’s friend, George Whitfield, changed it to read, ‘Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.’ Wesley did not approve, but millions around the world embraced it. And today, it is one of the most popular Christmas carols of all time.”
Bob: Well, I think George Whitfield did Charles Wesley a favor because—
Barbara: I think he did, too.
Bob: —I’m not sure “Hark! The Welkin”—whatever that was—I don’t think that would have caught on.
Dennis: Hark! How All the Welkin Rings.
Bob: I don’t think we’d be singing—
Dennis: Somebody knows what a welkin is.
Bob: We’ll have to dig into that. Actually, we have joining us, this week, one of our favorite Christmas historians who is going to answer some of the questions we have about the history and tradition of Christmas.
I’ll introduce him here in just a minute—but if listeners are interested in finding out more about the ornaments that talk about Christmas hymns—you call those the Adore Hymns ornaments; right?
Barbara: That’s right.
Bob: Then, there are the Adorenaments that are the names of Christ. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and see what they look like. I’ll just say this: “You better—if you are interested in getting any of these, you need to go ahead and order because I’m not sure how long they’ll last.”
Dennis: We have limited amounts of these—both Adorenaments and also Adore Hymns.
Bob: Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. You can order online, or you can see what these look like if you’d like.
Our friend, Ace Collins, is joining us this week. Ace is the author of a couple of books about Christmas hymns and traditions. Ace, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Ace: It is good to be back.
Bob: Let me ask you about one of the traditions that, I think, we’ve given up on, at our house—which is sending out Christmas cards. We’re done with that.
We’re just exhausted; but where did that come from, Ace? Where did Christmas cards first appear?
Ace: Sir Henry Cole was where Christmas cards came from, in 1843, in England. Sir Henry was an incredibly busy man. He headed up museum studies. He was involved in several different business ventures; and because he was such a well-known Englishman, he got lots of correspondences. In the Victorian times, if you did not answer correspondence, what happened was it was viewed as a very large slight. So, if people did not get answer to the mail they sent, they became very upset.
Well, Sir Henry Cole had so much mail stack up in his mail box that December that he didn’t have time to answer it all. What he did was—he went, had a friend of his, who was an artist—a struggling artist, at the time—do a painting. From that painting, he printed on a four-colored card, put a Christmas greeting in, and sent that out to all of his friends that he owed correspondences to.
The next year, many of those friends went back and had that same card reprinted and did the same thing. Literally-speaking, from 1843 on, Christmas cards became a very important greeting form at Christmas.
Bob: I thought you were going to tell us Sir Hallmark or somebody came up with it, but it was a British tradition.
Ace: Yes. The Queen was one of the first ones to get it. Now, there was a lot of controversy in that first card because it showed an English family—a Victorian family—gathered around the table making a toast at Christmas with wine. A lot of people, who were Christians, at that time, took offense at having spirits on the holiday. So, it wasn’t without some degree of controversy, at that particular point.
What is really interesting, though, is Christmas was just catching on as a holiday that was celebrated by Christians, at that particular point, because in England and America, in the 1840’s, Christmas had started to come out and into the mainstream. Before that, Germany celebrated Christmas and others. Many people don’t know this—
Congress met on Christmas—the first 73 years of the United States.
Dennis: Christmas Day?
Ace: Christmas Day.
Bob: It was not a holiday—not revered, not set aside—for families or for celebrating the birth of Christ?
Ace: The Puritans outlawed Christmas. Catholic churches had Mass on Christmas Eve and Christmas; but most Protestant churches didn’t even open unless it happened to be—
Bob: On Sunday?
Dennis: So, it really became a pagan holiday of sorts?
Ace: It had been a pagan holiday, dating back to the time before Oliver Cromwell in England. Do you all remember the old Christmas carol, We Wish You a Merry Christmas?
Bob: “and a happy New Year.”
Ace: Exactly. There is a point in that carol where it says: “We want some figgy pudding. We won’t leave until we get some.”
Ace: Well, that was, literally, the case. Men would roam up and down the streets on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day—go to the rich parts of town, knock on the doors, and demand certain things. If they didn’t get them, they’d tear the doors down and go and get them. Oliver Cromwell, therefore, outlawed Christmas, when he became the leader of England,
because it was not a spiritual holiday. It was Mardi Gras on steroids—was what it was.
So, Christmas, as we know it, really has German origins. It came about in the United States—thanks to a poem written by a cleric—a man who taught at a seminary. The poem, of course, was: “The night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.”
Now, he invented Santa Claus for Christians in America and England. When it became a holiday for children, people quit drinking; and they quit partying. They started thinking about the children at Christmas. At that particular point, in the 1830’s and 1840’s, churches started to open their doors, too, and started to have Christmas musicals and services—once again, geared toward, at first, just children.
So, in a very real way, Santa Claus and The Night Before Christmas returned the spiritual Christmas to Christians.
Dennis: When did Christmas cards begin to be reproduced commercially?
Ace: In the United States, after the Civil War, for two reasons. One, printing became very, very cheap. So, cards didn’t cost much. And two, it was really after the Civil War—the United States developed an effective postal system that was cheap.
Dennis: How would you describe today’s tradition of Christmas cards if you were describing it to someone in the future?
Ace: When you are looking at Christmas cards now, you are looking at almost newsletters—to a certain degree—when people talk about their lives and keep you up on it.
We are seeing an advent of Christmas cards that are changing a great deal, and those are the Christmas cards online. They can have deeper meaning, in some cases. You can actually have somebody reading a Scriptural verse to you, over the internet, on a card that you get—or see Rudolph hopping around in the sky. So, it becomes—rather than a two-dimensional image, it becomes a multimedia image.
Bob: I’m fascinated by this whole morphing of Christmas over time. We think—or at least, I’ve always heard—that Christmas kind of became a tradition, back in the 3rd or 4th Century. It was really tied to the Winter Solstice—
that it began kind of as a pagan festival that Constantine made into a Christian celebration?
Ace: It became a way to diffuse the pagan festival. What you had was Christmas was not recognized or celebrated by the church, really, for several hundred years. Easter was where the focus was. Christmas became an important holiday, really, under Constantine. It was attempting to diffuse the seven-day Winter Solstice—drunken Mardi Gras-kind of thing going on with people.
What happened is the Christians would also celebrate the Winter Solstice. They were attempting to put the focus on Christ and, therefore, get rid of what they looked upon as some of the sinful nature of the holiday. Well, what people did was they celebrated Christmas, but they celebrated it the same way they had the Roman holiday. So, the early Christmases were Christmases of drinking, and revelry, and sinful, lustful times. Christmas, worldwide, at that particular point, was a much more secular holiday than we have today.
Bob: So, it’s only been in our country, over the last 150 years, that Christmas has had a more devout—a more religious orientation?
Bob: I hate to even bring this up, at this point; but apparently, one of our listeners got wind of the fact that we were going to be talking about traditions and Christmas songs this week—
Dennis: And this listener thinks he knows better than Ace.
Bob: —But the listener has apparently—and I don’t know where he got this—but calling some of your research into question and challenging some of what you claim to be true in these books. I felt it was only fair that we have the listener on air and just see what his concerns are.
Dennis: Kind of like the political—
Bob: Equal time.
Dennis: Yes; that’s right.
Bob: So, we have the listener online with us. He chooses only to be known as Mister Know-it-all.
Mister Know-it-all, are you there?
Mister Know-it-all: I’m here.
Bob: You actually have—you’ve got a research team that’s been looking into some of these traditions and these Christmas songs. Is that correct?
Mister Know-it-all: I do, Bob. It’s really a crack team.
Dennis: You know, I wonder if Mister Know-it-all knows the origin of—well, let’s take candy canes. Alright, Mister Know-it-all—
Mister Know-it-all: Sure, yes; I’m very familiar with that.
Mister Know-it-all: Candy cane was actually—she was actually a Vaudeville actress—Candy Cane.
Bob: Candy Cane? That was her name?
Mister Know-it-all: That’s correct—around the turn of the century.
Dennis: Where did the candy—
Mister Know-it-all: Well, she did a kid’s act when she was little—
Mister Know-it-all: —and she had these candy canes that she gave out to get people to show up; you see?
Bob: Played off her name—
Mister Know-it-all: That’s right.
Bob: —and handed out these candy canes, in Vaudeville, in the 1920’s.
Mister Know-it-all: That’s correct.
Dennis: Okay, Ace?
Bob: What about it? Is Mister Know-it-all even close?
Ace: I don’t think he is that close because I knew a Candy Cane and a Sugar Cane when I was at Baylor—who were twins—really, seriously. [Laughter]
Bob: That’s too bad.
Ace: They weren’t that old. [Laughter] Really, we can go back to 1670 on candy canes.
It was used to keep a group of rowdy children at a church choir festival quiet while the rest of the religious service was going on. A choir master in Germany went by. He knew that the church leaders would not allow him to have candy for the kids unless he taught a lesson with it.
So, he had the candy shaped in a crook. He pointed out to the children that that represented the Great Shepherd’s staff. He said, “If you turn it upside down, it represents a ‘J’ for the first letter of Christ’s name, Jesus.” So, he used that as an example. Then, when they got done with their presentation, in their choir special—and had to sit there for the next hour and a half—they could suck on the candy rather than talk to each other—which we think we have problems with kids now doing that. You don’t imagine that—but back in 1670, in Cologne, Germany—they had those same problems. It was actually striped, initially—hand-striped—in England.
There are many people who said, back when Christmas was outlawed during the Cromwell age, that, if you celebrated Christmas and you believed in Christ, that people would hand the canes to each other for that fact.
I don’t really think that’s true because Cromwell may have ended the celebration of Christmas as a formal holiday, but he didn’t make it unlawful to be a Christian. So, I don’t think people would have hidden their faith and use secret symbols.
Candy in the United States—in the United States, they started triple-striping the cane when you could actually stripe a candy cane. As a matter of fact, if you go back and look at Christmas cards, from the late 1800’s, they’re white—the candy canes are—but if you look at them from the 1920’s, the candy canes now have the red stripes.
When they added the red stripes, the candy cane maker was a Christian. As a matter of fact, his brother was a priest. He added the three stripes to be the Trinity—the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost. He made them red to represent the blood of Christ that was shed on the cross. So, at that particular point, it almost became a little track that you could hand somebody and tell them the story of Christ—His life and His death. So, it included both the story of Christmas and the story of Easter.
Bob: I like that a lot better than the Vaudeville performer.
Dennis: I was just thinking of Mister Know-it-all’s—I don’t want to say lame—lame excuse.
You know, it was interesting, too, that you point out in your book that these candy canes migrated, then, to become ornaments.
Ace: Exactly. They were easy to hang on trees. Once again, people still taught that the “J” stood for Jesus or the hook stood for the Shepherd; but nevertheless, you hung them on trees.
Dennis: Okay. I’ve got to ask Mister Know-it-all—are you still there?
Mister Know-it-all: Yes.
Dennis: First of all, I felt like the Vaudeville act—that was not a very sweet answer.
Mister Know-it-all: Well, I’m sorry. I just have to report what my researchers tell me.
Dennis: I think it is very suspect. I want to find out—Mister Know-it-all—
Mister Know-it-all: Yes?
Dennis: —where Christmas lights came from?
Mister Know-it-all: Christmas lights?
Bob: Like the decorative lights on the front of the house and on the tree, both; correct?
Mister Know-it-all: Actually—you know, many of these traditions do come from the turn of the century. In the case of Christmas lights, in the early days of aviation, there was—the government didn’t really fund the airports very well. They had to have—
Dennis: They didn’t have airports, Mister Know-it-all.
Mister Know-it-all: Well, there were some in major cities; but the problem was the pilots just couldn’t find them—especially, the airmail pilots, who were delivering the Christmas cards.
Bob: Yes. [Laughter]
Mister Know-it-all: So—
Bob: So, they put up Christmas lights for the—
Mister Know-it-all: Well, they put these lights up, you see, to help guide the plane.
Dennis: At least, you are upgraded from Vaudeville.
Dennis: I mean, Ace—
Mister Know-it-all: I’m pretty sure about that.
Bob: I’m pretty sure you need—
Dennis: You’re wrong, too.
Bob: —to—yes, you’re being tuned out here.
Ace: But I like that story. I really do. [Laughter]
Bob: What about it, Ace? Where did Christmas lights come from?
Ace: This is one we can actually trace back to Martin Luther. Martin Luther came home one night, after walking through the forest and watching the lights twinkle through the pine trees. The Christmas tree had already evolved. He had one of those sitting in his living room, but he decided he wanted to add that lighting effect. So, he put some candles on the tree to try to create that effect—and did two things—one, he gives the first lights we ever had on a Christmas tree—and two, he created the first fire hazard ever at Christmas, too. [Laughter]
And we continued to put candles on trees, then, for the next several hundred years, until Edison invented the light bulb.
Within a year of after Edison inventing the light bulb, one of his scientists, there at his factory, invented a whole string of lights and hung them on his tree in his living room. People came from all over the United States, literally. They sent reporters from the east coast and the central part of the United States to cover this event. Therefore, there were lights on the tree. Within ten years, the President of the United States had lights on the Christmas tree at the White House. An original strand of lights, back in the 1800’s, would cost several hundred dollars for eight lights.
Ace: It took Woolworth Company, and the advent of a cheaper manufacturing process, to actually bring lights to the masses. That happened at about the turn of the century. He was right on that.
Bob: Can you explain to me why Christmas lights, that sit in the attic all year-long—that were working fine last year—all of a sudden don’t work anymore?
Ace: I can probably explain that, but I’m not sure it would be theologically correct. [Laughter]
Dennis: You know, just listening to you, Ace—
I know Barbara has some opinions on this. So many of these traditions—lights, candy canes, cards, Christmas trees—really do go back to Christian roots, and we’ve lost them today. We’ve lost the sense of the origination from our Christian heritage. That’s what you are trying to put back in the holidays; right?
Barbara: Yes, that’s really true. I think that most of us feel that need—most of us, as believers—feel the need to put Christ back in Christmas. So, when we learn that there is a Christian background for these traditions that we celebrate every year, we go, “Oh! That’s why we do this.” That makes it more meaningful, again, when we understand.
So, when we put up our Christmas trees—which most all of us do—we can now add ornaments that reflect the reason for the season—that teach us about Jesus Christ—that talk about the origins of the hymns that we love to sing at Christmas.
That’s why I’m so excited about the Adorenaments that we’ve created and the Adore Hymns—the ornaments that tell about the origins of some of our favorite Christmas carols.
Bob: Well, apparently, you’re not the only one excited because we had a lot of people—last week and even, here, at the start of this week—getting in touch with us to find out about the Adore Hymn ornaments and about the names of Christ Adorenaments that you have developed—His Christmas names—and new for this year—His royal names. What a great way for your Christmas tree to be making a statement, in your home, all season long. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to find out more about the ornaments that Barbara has been developing. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. You can order these ornaments for your tree online; or you can call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
If you’d like to share some of the stories of Christmas songs or Christmas traditions that you’ve heard us talk with Ace Collins about today,
we have three books from Ace in a three-book set: Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas, Volumes 1 and 2; and Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas. These are good to read aloud at the dinner table as you prepare your hearts for the celebration of Christmas. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about the books from Ace Collins and about Barbara’s ornaments. FamilyLifeToday.com is the website; or call, toll-free, if you have any questions at 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
Now, we want to say, “Thank you,” to those of our listeners who have already started to respond—this is pretty exciting—they’ve been responding to the matching-gift opportunity that is available to us, here at FamilyLife, in the last month of the year. I know a lot of listeners, in December, consider making a year-end contribution to ministries like FamilyLife Today.
This year, if you are able to make a year-end contribution, whatever contribution you are able to make is going to be matched by a group of friends of the ministry who have agreed to match those donations—not dollar for dollar—but three-to-one. So, when we receive a donation of $100 from a listener, we are able to unlock $300 from the matching-grant vault; and we’re able to make that a $400 donation. If you are able to help with a $500 donation, it becomes a $2,000 donation. Whatever you are able to do—whether it is $25 dollars becoming $100, or $500 becoming $2,000, or whatever your gift is—it’s going to be matched, three-to-one, up to a total of $500,000.
So, would you consider, today, going to FamilyLifeToday.com—click the link that says, “I CARE,”—and make an online, end-of-the-year donation to FamilyLife Today? Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make your donation over the phone. Or if you’d like to send a check,
mail it to us at FamilyLife Today, P O Box 7111, Little Rock, AR. Our zip is 72223. And let me just say, “Thanks,” in advance, for whatever you are able to do. Please pray for us—that we’d receive enough money to be able to take full advantage of this matching- gift opportunity.
And I hope you can join us back again tomorrow when we are going to focus again on Christmas—talk about how this holiday season can be even more meaningful and memorable at your house. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. Join us back again tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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