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From the Green Valley News, Sunday 25 December 2011, page B3

Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG

Vintage Christmas Music Still Inspiring Today

A column published on Christmas Day must celebrate the meaning of the day so let's take a look at the music of Christmas, as much a part of our celebration today as it was in our ancestors' day.

We all grew up singing "Jingle Bells" without much thought for its origins. The song was written in 1857 by James Lord Pierpont, a sometime writer and music director at his brother's church in Savannah, Georgia. Originally titled "One Horse Open Sleigh," it was composed for a Sunday School Thanksgiving concert and is supposed to commemorate the sleigh races held during the 1800s in Medford, Massachusetts.

Since Pierpont had grown up in Boston, Massachusetts, he may have been longing for the northern winters of his youth as there could not have been many sleighs in use in Savannah. The song was not immediately popular, but over time was accepted and widely sung in the United Sates, eventually becoming one of the best-loved Christmas songs in the world.

"Jingle Bells" has the honor of being the first song broadcast from outer space. Astronauts Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra contacted Mission Control from orbit on December 16, 1965 saying, "We have an object, looks like a satellite going from north to south, probably in polar orbit. . . I see a command module and eight smaller modules in front. The pilot of the command module is wearing a red suit. . . ." They then pulled out a harmonica and sleigh bells they smuggled aboard and broadcast their rendition of "Jingle Bells."

Music has been part of Christmas celebrations since the 1600s. George Frederic Handel's "Messiah" was composed in 1741 with scriptural text compiled by Charles Jennens from the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. One of the most frequently performed choral works in Western music, it's generally linked with the Christmas season, especially in England and the U.S. The "Messiah" was first sung publicly by 26 boys and five men from the combined choirs of St Patrick's and Christ Church cathedrals at the New Music Hall in Dublin on 13 April 1742 to benefit a local hospital. Today many church choirs and community choruses perform it during December.

The "Messiah's" Hallelujah Chorus has become popular with flash mobs as its readily recognized, bringing people to their feet and stopping them in their tracks. One flash mob singer said, "It's a great way of reminding everyone in the public square that `Christmas' is all about the real meaning of Christmas - God's coming into this world to take on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, so that He might become the Savior of the world! Hallelujah!"

The most popular Christmas Carol ever written is still "Away in a Manger." It has been recorded by many music stars including Andy Williams, Dolly Parton, Randy Travis, and most recently Susan Boyle. First published in Philadelphia in 1885, no one knows who wrote it or when and despite the sometimes odd lyrics it remains a favorite across the world. Just as the "Messiah" does, this clumsy little carol celebrates the birth of Jesus in a humble manger, as do other popular carols, "Hark the Herald Angels Sing, O Come All Ye Faithful, It Came upon a Midnight Clear, Silent Night, O Holy Night, etc."

Indeed, isn't that what Christmas is all about? It's not about who gets the most gifts, which giver impresses with the most expensive gift, who has the best decorated tree, or who wins the football game. Christmas is not just a holiday - it is the commemoration of the birth of the Savior of the World, God's own son. Whether people recognize it as such or not, does not change the meaning or significance of the day.

The only peace we have in this world is the peace that God puts in our heart when we decide to trust in His Son for our personal salvation. Seek Him first this Christmas Season and you'll not be sorry. I wish you each a Merry Christmas and a most Blessed New Year.

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