Episode 80: Christmas Carol War!

Shea hosts a Christmas Carol quiz then Aaron takes patrons — and everyone! — to see the ghosts of Christmas wars past. Happy Holidays!

Welcome to Interesting If True, the podcast that looks like Santa

I’m your host this week, Shea, and with me are:

I’m Aaron, and this week I learned that the Bible specifically forbids Christmas Trees, thanks, Joshua.

I’m Steve, and I’m recording remotely because of reasons…

This Week’s Beer

Fruitcake Dunkle from Altitude

  • Aaron: 5
  • Shea: 6?

Christmas Carol Quiz Time

Christmas Carol

  1. Thurl Ravenscroft sang “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” . . . and was also the voice of a very popular cereal mascot for over 50 years. Disneyland fans will know him as the bust second from the left on the Haunted Mansion! Who was the mascot?
    1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Hj3U18FHgQ
    2. Hint: He was great at it. 
    3. Tony the Tiger
  2. The Roman Catholic Church condemned what 1952 song because they thought it promoted ADULTERY?
    1. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”
    2. They backed off after 13-year-old singer Jimmy Boyd explained that “Santa” is really just the kid’s dad.
  3. One of the most recognizable holiday tunes, this carroll was originally sung around Thanksgiving when it was written in 1857.
    1. Jingle Bells
  4. We have all heard this song but we may not have heard this version. On the Heavy Metal Christmas album who is heard singing a little drummer boy?
    1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVzOve8T39w
    2. Hint: he had to take time off killing hobbits to record it. 
    3. Christopher Lee 
  5. What do the songs; Winter Wonderland, The Christmas Song, Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, Let It Snow!, and Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree all have in common? 
    1. They were all written by Jewish people.
  6. Benjamin Hanby’s classic christmas song written in 1864, was inspired Clement Moore’s 1823 poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” and was the first song to mention Santa Clause.
    1. Up on the Housetop
  7. Rockin Around the Christmas Tree has been covered by tons of different artists but it’s original recording was from 1958 by Brenda Lee who was surprisingly young. How old was Brenda when she recorded this classic hit?
    1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=is4NQkUN3AI
    2. 13
  8. According to the Guinness World Records, the first song ever played in space was what christmas song on December 16, 1965? Astronauts Walter Schirra and Tom Stafford used a harmonica and a bell — also the first instruments in space — to perform the song aboard NASA’s Gemini 6A space flight. It was part of a prank — they claimed the music was coming from a strange, flying object that looked a lot like Santa Claus.
    1. Jingle Bells
    2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqfIEQKnkJU
  9. What band currently has the record for most Christmas number 1 singles?
    1. Hint: Aaron knows this band.
    2. The Beatles
  10. What obnoxious 1958 Christmas tune topped the Billboard Hot 100 Pop Singles chart that year making it the first holiday tune to ever do so, while also landing three Grammy Awards? The song actually held the record as the only Christmas song to ever top the Billboard charts until a few years ago, when Mariah Carey’s 1994 hit “All I Want for Christmas Is You” finally topped the charts in December 2019. Still, 61 years at the top isn’t bad.
    1. Hint: This song is often found on the worst Christmas songs of all time
    2. “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)”
  11. Wanna be set for life without doing any work? Too bad you weren’t born rich… I guess you’ll have to make it like the rest of us by writing a hit Christmas song like Slade’s – “Merry Christmas Everybody” which nets the most of any Christmas song at around $840,000 in royalties every year. Mariah Carey’s – “All I Want for Christmas Is You” sits at third and makes how much every year? 
    1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpfHSqLXePI
    2. $600,000, I guess where I hear annoying screeching she hears money…
  12. “Do You Hear What I Hear?” was written in response to what major crisis in 1962? As Americans nationwide anxiously listened to the radio in fear, Noël Regney and his then-wife Gloria Shayne Baker wrote the classic Christmas song “Do You Hear What I Hear?” It evokes a message of peace for “people everywhere,” which makes perfect sense considering the political climate in which it was written.
    1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhTnDaEmA5k
    2. Cuban Missile Crisis
  13. In 1906, the first ever radio show was broadcast out of a studio in Brant Rock, Mass on Christmas Eve. Canadian inventor Reginald Fessenden set up his violin and played the second piece of music to ever be broadcast on radio. Though his signal could only be heard 12 miles away he made history with what carrol?
    1. “O Holy Night”
  14. The popular New Year song, “Auld Lang Syne,” was never supposed to be associated with the holiday at all. One live band in New York coincidentally played it just after midnight on the radio, then it became a tradition. What does ‘Auld Lang Syne’ mean anyway?
    1. The phrase “auld lang syne” translates literally to “old long since” in English and means something akin to “times gone by.”
  15. The original Yiddish version of “I Have a Little Dreidel,” the dreidel is made out of bley, which is a yiddish word that was changed to clay. What does bley mean? It is a better material to make a top out of anyway.
    1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTrWyQbhQRE
    2. Lead
  16. “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” was originally sung by Elmo Shropshire,who had professional expertise supporting the described results of when grandmas and reindeers collide due to his day job as a what?
    1. A Licenced veterinarian
  17. If you really received all of the gifts from “The 12 Days of Christmas,” how many gifts would you receive? Bonus if you know how much it would cost. 
    1. There would be 364 presents total. Someone did the math in 2013, and determined that it would cost around $114,651.18.
  18. What obscure Christmas song about a Christmas Equus was financed by the Italian mob in 1960? 
    1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ca5wXojemRM
    2. Lou Monte recorded “Dominick The Donkey” in 1960. It was a modest hit, but fared much better in Great Britain 51 years later. The story goes that Monte, who was Italian, received support from the Gambino crime family, one of the biggest Mafia families in the US. Carlo Gambino was the family boss in the 1960s, and a loan to a fellow Italian with an idea to make a profit wasn’t out of the ordinary. The mob wasn’t exactly in the music business, but they were known for helping out singers, such as Frank Sinatra.

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The “Real” War On Christmas

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Let’s talk about the War on Christmas.

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Christmas is under attack in America. A particularly silly set of laws in Massachusetts would all but do away with any solstice celebrations and I for one plan on doing everything I can to save Christmas!

Yes, like Charley Brown, KISS, and Kirk Cameron before me, I will wade into the holiday muck, clutching my Superman-stocking close, in defense of this, the glorious, brightly illuminated, the anniversary of Sir Issac Newton’s birth.

Mostly I like the lights, food, friends… and the week off doesn’t hurt.

Anyway, back to the matter at someone’s hand. The law is pretty clear:

Whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way” is guilty of celebrating Christmas in defiance of a jealous and punitive god, as well as, being subject to state fines up to 5-shillings.

Which is, in today’s money, 5 billion double-dollars, or, roughly, 40 doubloons. I’m good at math.

Actually, 5 shillings in 1620 translates to, also roughly, £32.88. I did a bunch of Googling for shilling-to-dollar calculators, and inflation calculators, but the values varied wildly. In the end, the best primary source I could find is a reprinting of a Wages ledger from 1752, which yes, is 100 years later, but cut me some slack here ok. Apparently, a skilled man could expect to earn 16 shillings a week on the high end, and about 4 a week if you were a putz.

So… while that’s an expensive fine, I kinda wish Christmas only cost be a week’s wages…

So yeah, this story begins in 1620. Not… 2020, as some of the more Christmas-tree-burned-down-because-karma’s-a-bitch networks would have you believe. Christmas was banned in some areas in Europe in 1620 and the puritans in Massachusetts Bay Colony followed suit in 1659.

Like everything that’s joyless and milk-leg-inducing, this story starts with Puritanical bullshit. Namely, the Puritans.

Shocking as it sounds, followers of Jesus Christ in both America and England helped pass laws making it illegal to observe Christmas, believing it was an insult to God to honor a day associated with ancient paganism. Most Americans today are unaware that Christmas was banned in Boston from 1659 to 1681.”

Shocked by the Bible (Thomas Nelson Inc, 2008).

Stephen Nissenbaum, author of “The Battle for Christmas,” explains that the Puritans at the time were, basically, pro-level buzzkills.

The Puritans tried to run a society in which legislation would not violate anything that the Bible said, and nowhere in the Bible is there a mention of celebrating the Nativity.”

Stephen Nissenbaum, author of “The Battle for Christmas”

Sadly, I seriously doubt my neighbor would accept this as a reason to take down the nativity that, I can only assume, she somehow stole from the Bellagio. Seriously, every time a light aircraft mistakes it for a landing strip, I understand a little more why the Puritans called it “Foolstide.”

Bazinga!

So what was the actual law? I read a bit of it earlier, but here it is complete with all relevant sections. The Massachusetts Bay Colony law reads as:

For preventing disorders arising in several places within this jurisdiction, by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other countries, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others, it is therefore ordered by this Court and the authority thereof, that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon such accountants as aforesaid, every person so offending shall pay of every such offense five shillings, as a fine to the county.”

Massachusetts Bay Colony

It seems that Christmas was then — even more so than it is now — a drinking holiday. And there’s nothing that gets a Puritans petticoats like people having a drink, and god-forbid, fun.

Worse still, the roots of Christmas are pagan, so obviously, that’s of the devil. The first church-ordained celebration of the Nativity was in the fourth century and heavily co-opted celebrations like Saturnalia, a Roman solstice holiday of lights, drinks, and feasting.

Again, fun.

They’re describing fun.

And what was a ye-oldie, 1600’s fella to do on Christmas? Well, Yuletide events at the time consisted of drinking way too much and then, essentially, trick-or-treating. You’d wander town in drag and demand money or food from people you caroled at like some kind of tone-deaf hostage negotiator.

Bands of mostly young people and apprentices would go house to house and demand that the doors of prosperous people be open to them. “They felt they had a right to enter the houses of the wealthy and demand their high-quality food and drink—not meager handouts, but the stuff prosperous people would serve to their own families.”

Nissenbaum’s “The Battle for Christmas”

And if they refused to allow entry the price could be steep. Often homes were vandalized, not uncommonly with eggs, and if that didn’t loosen your cold, dead grip on your pies, there was always the option for violence.

Men dishonor Christ more in the 12 days of Christmas than in all the 12 months besides.”

Wrote 16th-century clergyman Hugh Latimer. And so, the ye-oldie lords, fresh with visions of violence and debauchery dancing in their heads, passed the laws we mentioned. It never really turned into a secret police kind of deal, the goal was to stamp out public displays of un-misery, as they were intolerable at the time. In fact, the authors I’ve mentioned so far all say they failed to find any first-hand accounts of people being punished beyond a 5-shilling drunk-and-disorderly under the law.

Noted Puritan minister Increase Mather — yeah, that’s his name — wrote that the holiday is on the winter solstice not because:

Christ was born in that month, but because the heathens’ Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those pagan holidays metamorphosed into Christian [ones].”

And, yeah… basically. Obviously, there’s a lot more to it but… yeah. They jacked Saturnalia, stuck a feather in its cap, and called it Christmas. Helps with recruiting I guess…

They banned everything great about the dead of winter.
No more seasonal plays or activities,

Nor games or holiday amenities.
No carols or dancing,

And, certainly no drinking and prancing.
‘Twas Christmas time,

And they couldn’t even enjoy this sad rhyme…
Cause… music was outlawed and often music rhymes. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

It wasn’t much longer until Christmas was outlawed in Boston, Plymouth colony, and New England.

Christmas trees were banned because they were considered pagan — that Jeremiah 10:1–25 problem…

Thus says the LORD: Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the Gentiles are dismayed at them. For the customs of the peoples are futile; for one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple.

This is some of the admittedly more-amusing-than-important trivia atheists like to toss out, myself included, that the Bible bans Christmas trees. The apologetics for this range from “meh, old Testimate doesn’t count” to “they meant craven idols, see, they talk about craftsmen and their uniforms, and trees can’t wear crafting pants” — the last bit being a … perhaps less than the charitable summation of a post I saw on r/Christians recently.

Of course, it isn’t really much of a “got’cha” because yes, much of the OT gets ignored, but also, who gives a shit? Saturnalia trees are pretty and my cats looooove them. Also, it gets dark at 4:30 here in the winter, so any excuse to brighten the place up eh!

The Puritans also banned Christmas-style food. Because anything that doesn’t taste like old leather and depression might accidentally spark a moment less-than-holy non-suffering in your otherwise bleak, repressed, unpalatable lives.

So yeah, it was illegal to make mincemeat pies and pudding not just at Christmas but like, in general.

They also required local stores to stay open on Christmas as a show of obedience to their sad god. In the same vein, any kind of relaxing or anything other than back-breaking labor that day would earn you a fine.

If you were the town crier — that is the weirdo who stands on a box and shouts the day’s events, you know, ye-oldie newsfeeds — that guy had to spend all day yelling “NO CHRISTMAS” at everyone he saw.

So that’s all terrible. In 1660, when Charles II took the throne, the bans were lifted in England. However, the new world was not so forgiving and Christmas remained illegal until, pressured by the crown, the Puritans finally broke in 1681, allowing Christmas celebrations again in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

In 1686, only a few years later, the newly appointed royal governor Sir Edmund Andros attended a Christmas Day service at Boston’s Town House flanked on both sides by redcoats to protect him from violent protests and, you know, those good, very fine, people, the Protestants.

Of course, that was just the colony, and if you recall our list of Grinch-towns was a bit longer. Other areas in Massachusetts and the new world remained steadfastly anti-holiday spirit until 1856 when Christmas — and Washington’s birthday and the 4th of July — were finally recognized as public holidays. It still wasn’t entirely accepted in some areas, for example, most schools and Churches refused to recognize the day until in 1870 it was made a National Holiday and it was no longer up to them.

So the next time someone mentions the War on Christmas, you can remind them that the only time Christmas was ever banned in North America — not even America-America — it was pious Christians who banned it and the government who restored it.

And now you know why Christmas is the way it is — because it was once band, and then started to make a come back during America’s adolescence so naturally, we chugged down as much of that sweet, sweet holiday cheer as we could and, if my Insta-ads are any indication, have been crushing the cans against our, holly, jolly, concussed foreheads ever since.

Outro

I’m Shea, and this week I learned that the moral to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is that no one likes you unless you’re useful. Before we go I’d like to thank all our listeners, supporters, and my co-hosts.

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Music for this episode was created by Wayne Jones and was used with permission.

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