Christmas Caroling: A Grassroots Tradition

There is, perhaps, no Christmas tradition more neighborly and friendly than caroling. No matter what the song, Christmas caroling spreads the true spirit of Christmas throughout December. As a child, teen, and even as an adult, I’ve sung carols like Buddy the Elf with groups in retirement centers, nursing homes, city neighborhoods, and even on country farms. However, for most of my life I had no idea how Christmas caroling actually began. 

Let’s start with the carols themselves.

The original carols had their roots in the pre-Christian Festival of Yule, when Europeans would sing and dance to honor the Winter Solstice. The word “carol” has its roots in the Latin word “choraules” which means “a dance to the flute.” The original carols were mostly fun secular, upbeat songs accompanied with dances often performed with a group. Overtime, carols became more associated with Christianity and became more hymnlike and therefore resulted in less dancing (Sorry, Mariah Carey).

Christmas carols themselves thrived as more of a grassroots tradition. Saint Francis of Assisi is said to have first incorporated upbeat carols into informal (and sometimes impromptu) Christmas services in creative ways. He built nativity scenes in caves complete with live animals. The villagers would gather and listen as he taught them about the birth of Jesus. Then, they all joined in singing early versions of Christmas carols. These energetic, joyful carols were often sung with gusto, as in Celebration, in sharp contrast to the traditional somber Christmas music of the day. It’s no wonder these simple songs spread quickly across the Christian world, especially Europe. 

Christmas caroling actually grew out of the Anglo-Saxon custom of wassailing, where the carolers received sustenance in exchange for their singing. This custom derives its name from the drink “wassail,” which was a hot spiced beverage. Over time, wassailing became associated with Christmas and carols. Ironically, the practice of caroling out of doors grew somewhat because of Oliver Cromwell, who banned Christmas celebrations in England from 1649 to 1660. As you can imagine, the persecution of the day most likely put a damper on the outright practice of singing carols in organized services. However, what’s to stop someone from singing Christmas Carols outdoors as they travel to and fro? Even after Cromwell’s time in power ended, caroling did not really experience growth until the 19th century, when joyful, more expressive hymns became more popular across England and Europe. During this time, some caroling groups gathered in public spaces to sing while others went from house to house. Today, the practice of Christmas caroling continues to bring joy to those singing and those hearing, with or without the wassail.

This Christmas season, from December 1st – 25th, I plan to highlight the history of 25 Christmas carols, most of which have been sung at one point or another by Christmas carolers. Some of them are currently extremely popular while others have been all but forgotten. Regardless, I’ve found them all fascinating and I plan to learn as much about them in the next month. I invite you to join me for the journey. 

Merry Christmas

*Image courtesy of Mario Mendez

Christmas Carol Countdown

I love Christmas carols. Now that we’ve made it past Thanksgiving, it’s awesome that we’ll be hearing them more on the radio and tv, online, and in worship services. Last December, I posted the stories of our most beloved Christmas carols. While this year, I’ve posted more about my diet and physical fitness struggles, I plan to release posts sharing the stories of 25 more posts on December 1-25. I’ve posted links to those from last year below. If you have a favorite Christmas carol you’d like for me to research and share, post it in the comments or send me a private message. Merry Christmas!

Angels From the Realms of Glory

Angels We Have Heard On High

Away In A Manger

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Go, Tell It On The Mountain

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Good King Wenceslas

Hark The Herald Angels Sing

I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day

I Wonder As I Wander

In The Bleak Midwinter

It Came Upon The Midnight Clear

Joy to the World

Mary, Did You Know

O Come, All Ye Faithful

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

O Holy Night

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Silent Night

The 12 Days of Christmas

The First Noel

The Little Drummer Boy

Welcome To Our World

What Child Is This?

*Image Courtesy of David Beale

The Day Before Black Friday

Sometimes I feel sorry for Thanksgiving. 

Some have called it the most neglected of the major holidays. Although it gets more attention than Ground Hog Day (sorry Bill Murray), it’s slowly getting squeezed out by the Christmas, the king of the hill as far as holidays are concerned. Even Black Friday, which has taken over Thanksgiving Friday and is making its moves on Thursday, gets more respect than it deserves. 

Thanksgiving does lack the pageantry and presents of Christmas. It’s meant to be simple, but so much has changed. It’s now become a day that’s more about overeating (gorging might be a better word), football watching (the original binge watching), dish washing (somebody has to do it), and Christmas shopping (sigh). 

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

We can choose for Thanksgiving to be more of what it was meant to be. (It’s actually more of what Christmas should be as well) – a day when family and friends cease from their labor, thank God for his blessings, and enjoy some of his blessings, all the while growing closer together and closer to him.  

Sorry, Thanksgiving, for the way I’ve treated you over the years. This year, help me remember to be truly thankful. 

*Image Courtesy of Priscilla Du Prees

Lose It App at the 16 Week Mark

For 16 weeks, I’ve been trying my best to find a way to cheat the Lose It App. 

Finally, I’ve figured it out. You cheat by not entering everything you consume into the App.

However, the results are like cheating on an eye exam. I can cheat for the day by not entering everything I eat, but it doesn’t translate to my bathroom scale at the end of the week. I guess the proof is always in the pudding (as long as you enter it into the app).

After 16 weeks, I have begun to embrace the intermittent fasting feature as well. At first it seems silly to think of fasting for a 12 hour period. I mean, what good will that do? I probably come close to that several times a week anyway. However, when I begin the fasting time (which I now do about twice a week) I’ve come to see how often I do reach for food late in the evening or even when I wake up in the middle of the night. This feature helps me keep myself accountable and helps me leave it alone.

So, here’s the moment of truth. After 16 weeks, I’ve lost a total of 28.6 lbs. Not bad. It’s kind of exciting when I realize that I could be at the 30 lb mark in another week or so. 

Thanks for following my Lose It App journey. I plan to make an update every 4 weeks or so. See you at the 20 Week Mark.

*Image courtesy of Drew Beamer

Fighting For Survival

Today, I found myself in the midst of a battle. 

I was minding my own business, trying my best to provide for my family, 

When my adversary felt it was time to hinder my progress. 

At first, I was gentle and friendly, communicating with him that I wanted the best for both of us.

But he didn’t go for it.

Instead, his stubbornness grew.

I tried moving him to the left but he wouldn’t budge.

I tried moving him to the right to no avail. 

Suddenly, a crowd formed around us to watch the struggle.

Embarrassed by the attention, I redoubled my efforts to win the skirmish.

But it didn’t work and my frustration grew with every passing moment.

My fists soon developed minds of their own and they pounded the sides of my opponent.

When I could take it no longer, I grabbed my enemy and raised him over my head.

My strength multiplied as I yanked at his layers and finally ripped him in two. 

I dropped my foe to the ground and held on to the portion I had snatched away.

And then, following my neighbor’s example, I licked my thumb and rubbed it across the plastic bag I held in my hand as I stood in the produce aisle of the grocery store.

To my amazement, it finally opened.

Celebrating my victory, I placed my zucchini inside and continued my battle for food.

I repeated the process in the broccoli section.

I never learned this skill as a child. 

It wasn’t taught at home, at church, or at school, 

Yet, be forewarned good people,

For it is necessary for survival.

*Image courtesy of attentie-attentie.

I Got The Tofu

Recently, I took my first bite of what I thought was a steamy plate of sliced chicken and vegetables in a savory Asian sauce. Suddenly, my gag reflexes began to engage. Something was incredibly wrong.

“Dear,” I said to my wife. “I think there may be something wrong with my chicken.”

“That’s not chicken,” she replied.

“What is it?” I asked.

“It’s tofu.” she answered with a smile. 

“Tofu!” I exclaimed. “Oh no! I’m not sure I’m ready for us to start eating tofu.”

For those of you who are unaware, tofu is a semi-food substance prepared by coagulating soy milk, then pressing the resulting curds into solid white blocks of varying softness, and finally marinating it overnight in liquid sadness.

“The secret to eating tofu,” my wife explained, “Is to eat it with something else on your plate. You see, on its own, it has no taste.”

“That’s the truth!” I said.

“Try some more,” she said. “You might even start to like it.”

Instead, I shook my head and said, “I’m not sure I can eat tofu. It sounds like a condition you get from an old pair of sneakers.”

“Eat your dinner,” she replied.

“I’m not sure about this,” I said. “What if I get sick and people ask me what I have? I’ll have to say, ‘I’ve got the tofu.’ Then people are going to start saying, ‘There goes John. He never washes his feet and now he has tofu.’”

“Eat your dinner,” she said once again.  

“I’m expected to finish this?” I exclaimed.

The expression on her face indicated that I had no choice.

So, I carefully partnered every bite of tofu with vegetables and wiped the plate clean of the sauce which also masked the absence of taste and personal freedom.

So far, we haven’t eaten tofu again. But there’s a block of it in our refrigerator. I discovered it after thinking it was cream cheese for my bagel. 

Sigh…

*Image courtesy of Sherman Kwan.

Lose It App at the Eight Week Mark

Eight weeks ago, I realized I was fat. I’m not sure what happened. All I did was eat way too much consistently over several years and then boom, suddenly I’m fat. I knew I needed a lifestyle change with a directed plan. So I visited my friendly App store and downloaded the paid version of the Lose It App.  

Here’s how it works: 

  • First, I track my food intake. The app database has over 33 million foods. I either type in my food or scan its UPC barcode. If the food is not included in the app, I can add it using its real, or at least estimated, caloric information. 
  • Second, I stick to my calorie budget (For the most part). When I started my account, I entered my height, age, current weight, and goal weight. The app shared how long it will take for me to reach my goal weight IF I follow my personalized daily calorie budget. Currently, I’m scheduled to reach my goal weight by mid-March 2023. 
  • Third, I have the option to enter my daily exercise. When I exercise, not only am I helping myself raise my metabolism, but I earn extra calories which are added to my daily budget. Currently, my exercise of choice is walking. I’ve connected my steps app to my Lose It App. After 7500 steps during the day, I begin to earn extra calories. 

After 8 weeks using the Lose It App, I’ve lost 15 lbs. Not too shabby. 

The Lose It App’s biggest weakness is probably what I like about it. I can eat whatever I want as long as I enter my calories. As you can imagine, my wife is thrilled about that (Yeah, right). Even so, I’ve found that I tend to eat rather than drink my calories, drink more water, and make healthier choices simply because I have to enter what I eat. Also, if I make healthier choices, I can eat more (which I like).

Have you had success using Lose It or another weight loss program app? Let me know.

*Image courtesy of Volodomyr Hryshchenko and Unsplash

Altercation in Walmart

Ok, so I’ve officially become an old man.

If my graying hair and the mail I receive from AARP wondering why I haven’t taken advantage of their offer isn’t enough, I’m now adding fuel to the fire in my conversations.

So, I’m in Walmart and two young representatives from a tv and internet provider approach me. I don’t want to start anything so we’ll just call them GrAyT & T.

Our dialogue went something like what you’re about to read with only slight exaggeration:

Rep 1 – Hello, Sir.

Me – Hello, twelve year olds (Ok, so I didn’t really say how old I thought they were).

Rep 2 – May we ask which company currently provides your tv and internet service?

Me – Ok, sure. Cox. (I understand for some of you that automatically puts me in the old person category.

Rep 1 – That’s perfect.

Me – (Continues shopping) Great. See you later.

Rep 1 – Well, we actually were curious if you know how much your monthly payment is for these services.

Me – Yes, I do know.

(awkward pause)

Rep 2 – Would you mind telling us how much you pay?

Me – Yes, I would.

Rep 1 – Ok, well. Where do you live? I can look it up.

Me – (Heavy sigh) Fine. (I tell them my address. I’d write out my address here but I’m not prepared for all the fan mail I might receive. Just kidding).

Rep 2 – Sir, what would you say if I told you that our company can save you around 50% and can improve your service?

Me – I’d say that I’m upset because your company is about to dig up the front of my yard to put in their fancy smancy fiberoptics lines.

Rep 1 – Well, that is true, Sir. But the teams are repairing the damage by replanting the grass.

Me – I have Asian Jasmine growing in that section of my yard. Do you know how much work my wife and I had to do to get it growing right again after all the debris from Hurricane ida was stacked on it. And now you want me to go through all that again?

Rep 2 – But the service is so much better and cheaper. Wouldn’t you like to try it out?

Me – How can I try it? They haven’t even run the lines yet.

Rep 1 – Didn’t you just say you didn’t want them to run the lines?

Me – Yes, I did. If they can’t run the lines then I can’t try your service!

My Wife – (Interrupts) – Now, Honey, you need to leave these nice young people alone. You’re overexciting yourself. Goodbye, 12 years olds… (Ok, so she didn’t call them 12 year olds either).

I guess I am getting older. Who knows, maybe I should try that new grAy T & T service. To do so I’d have to cancel my front yard Asian Jasmine guarding stake out. I was going to build a bonfire and roast my food over all my AARP junk mail letters.

Maybe I’ll look into it after my nap…

*Image courtesy of Yerling Villalobos and Unsplash

My Father’s Day Confession

I have a confession to make. 

I watch people I don’t know. I watch them a lot. 

Dads especially catch my eye when they’re with their kids.

I watch them when they’re playing, working, laughing, and even when they’re frustrated.

I watch them and I wonder, “What must that be like?”

It used to make me angry (Ok sometimes it still does) when I read that “Children are a gift from the Lord. They are a reward from Him.” (Psalm 127:3 NLT) I mean, if those who have kids are truly experiencing an actual reward from the Lord, then I naturally assume that I must be a loser of the highest (or lowest) magnitude. 

I’ve absolutely hated Father’s Day because people walk up to me, smile, and practically shout, “Happy Father’s Day!” before they grimace and say “Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot that you’re not a father.” 

One Father’s Day, I was on vacation visiting a church when I was singled out from the pulpit in front of the congregation: “You all know John doesn’t have what it takes to make a baby but let’s pretend that he is by giving him a cheap gift.” Ok, so maybe that wasn’t exactly what they said, but it’s how I felt at the time.

One year, the daughter of a friend approached me on Father’s Day and innocently said, “My daddy is David. Mr. Bob is Ashleigh’s daddy. Whose daddy are you?”

That floored me.

I didn’t know what to say so I slapped her. (Not really)

“They (Children) are a reward from Him.”

I didn’t get a reward. I didn’t place. I wasn’t even allowed to race. I’m not sure what the problem is but I must be doing something wrong.

However, I refuse to allow myself to believe that anymore. 

When I look at my life, I’ve been blessed more than anyone I know. I have a cute wife, a nice home, and a life where I make a difference in the lives of thousands of people, if not more.

And yet, I still watch dads and I wonder, “What must that be like?”

And after all this time, I think I know.

It’s a blessing. With all of the frustrations, from my viewpoint, fatherhood is a reward.

So, I just wanted to say “Congratulations dads!

You have received an amazing gift, a reward from our Heavenly Father.”

And to those of you who are willing to embrace your reward, I honor you this weekend.

You are truly blessed beyond my comprehension! So do your best and make us proud! 

Be men of God willing to raise a generation to love and serve the Lord wholeheartedly! 

I promise to pray for you and try to relate as best I can. Let me know if I can help, seriously. And when we are old and gray(er) and all the children are gone, give me a call, send me a text, or do whatever people are doing then, and we’ll go to lunch or coffee, my treat. 

I’ll tell you how God has blessed me and then…

I’ll sit quietly and listen and you can tell me stories of what it was like.

Happy Father’s Day

*Image courtesy of Shane Rounce

One Minute of Silence

Some of my earliest memories involve cemeteries. I’m not talking about the country cemeteries where many of my relatives are buried. I’m also not talking about the above ground cemeteries of New Orleans surrounded by mausoleums and interstates. I’m talking about the cemeteries on various military bases with seemingly endless rows of whitewashed headstones marking the graves of men and women who had given their all in service to our country, to my country.

For many, Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial beginning of summer. It’s a time for picnics, day trips, Blockbuster movies, or furniture sales. However, it means so much more than that, and it all started in a cemetery. In Charleston, South Carolina, during the Civil War, a few black residents organized a burial of deceased Union prisoners, built a fence around the site, and established a cemetery in their honor. On May 1, 1865, they held an event at the site, complete with a parade, singing, scripture reading, and a picnic.

Over the next several years, groups gathered at cemeteries to honor and “decorate” the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers who had given their lives in the Civil War. It’s been reported that General Ulysses S. Grant led an observance at Arlington National Cemetery on Many 30, 1873. Over 5,000 people attended to show respect as the orphaned children and widows of soldiers and sailors killed during the war placed flowers and small American flags on the graves of the honored deceased.

Originally known as “Decoration Day” because of the decorated graves and tombstones, Memorial is now celebrated on the last Monday of May. In 2000, the U.S. Congress and the President signed into law the National Moment of Remembrance Act. This encourages all Americans to pause at 3pm local time for one minute of silence. 

I’m going to do my best to observe that law this Memorial Day. And during that moment of silence, I’m going to remember the oceans of tombstones of my childhood and thank God for those who gave their lives for our country.

* Photo courtesy of Chad Stembridge

**Thanks, Dad, for serving in the U.S. Marines for 22 years.