We start with the Christmas story in carols, beginning with the trip to Bethlehem and ending with the arrival of the Three Kings. Along the way, Mary picks some cherries, Christ is born in Bethlehem, a star appears, the news is spread, the shepherds rejoice, and the Three Kings arrive. Then we drive the cold winter way through feasting, wassailing, hunting the wren, and feeding the poor, and wrap up wishing you a happy new year.
Some Christmas history: Pope Julius I arbitrarily chose December 25 as the date on which Jesus was born in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival and you can see that reflected in a number of Christmas Carols (The Holly and the Ivy, for one); Christmas was not actually a holiday in America until the 18th century (December 25—Christmas Day—has only been a federal holiday in the United States since 1870); there was an actual war on Christmas waged by Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans, a cheerless bunch if there ever was one in the 1600s (Christmas observance was literally outlawed in Boston from 1659 until 1681).
Wassailing is a British tradition with Norse roots. The word wassail itself is from the Old Norse “ves heil”, Old English was hál, literally: be hale) and refers to a beverage of hot mulled cider, drunk traditionally as an integral part of wassailing, a Medieval Christmastide English drinking ritual intended to ensure a good cider apple harvest. The tradition of wassailing falls into two categories: house-visiting wassails and orchard-visiting wassails. The house-visiting wassail is the practice of people going door-to-door, singing and offering a drink from the wassail bowl in exchange for gifts. The orchard-visiting wassail refers to the ancient custom of visiting orchards in cider-producing regions of England, reciting incantations, and singing to the trees to promote a good harvest for the coming year. Our show has both an English and an American version of a house-visiting wassail plus an orchard-visiting wassail.
The “Boar’s Head Carol” is a macaronic 15th-century English Christmas carol in English and Latin that describes the ancient Norse tradition of sacrificing a boar and presenting its head at a Yuletide feast imploring the god Freyr to show favor to the new year.
The carol is associated with the tradition of the Boar’s Head Feast on Christmas Day at Queen’s College, Oxford, England. This ritual meal is held to have been celebrated annually for more than 600 years. And There’s an Oxford University tradition that the feast is a commemoration of an act of valour performed by a student of the college, who, while walking in the neighbouring forest of Shotover and reading Aristotle, was suddenly attacked by a wild boar. The furious beast came open-mouthed upon the youth, who, however, very courageously, and with a happy presence of mind, thrust the volume he was reading down the boar’s throat, crying, “Græcum est”, [With compliments of the Greeks] and fairly choked the savage with the sage…
Hunting the wren: https://www.galwaytourism.ie/blog/christmas-in-galway-wren-boys