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From the Christmas Gleaner archives: December 21, 1966

57 years ago

December 21, 1966

Across the years music reflects holiday joy, as carolers sing traditional songs of Christmas:

‘Carol, brothers, carol. Carol joyfully!’

With the coming of Christmas, almost everyone accepts the injunction of the old song to “Carol joyfully.” From special church services to family gatherings, a “carol sing” is a traditional pleasure.

The custom of singing carols at holiday time is an ancient one – begun, perhaps, even before the first Christmas, at celebrations such as the Roman Saturnalia.

Modern interest in music, and in learning to play musical instruments, has given carol singing a healthy boost. In most homes, at least one member of the family can be depended on to provide instrumental accompaniment for carols and the instrument may vary from the old favorite piano to the currently popular guitar.

Music in any form has long been especially beloved as a means of expressing Christmas joy. Early Christian believers were forced to worship in secret, and therefore, quietly. Then, in the fifth and sixth centuries, Christianity came out of the catacombs – and exultation for freedom of worship was expressed in the glad ringing of church bells.

 

Early hymns and carols, however, were in Latin. Carol singing in its modern form in the common language of the country probably originated in 1223, when St. Francis introduced the first realistic replica of the manger scene in the little town of Greecio, Italy.

From this beginning, the practice of erecting a creche or crib soon became a Christmas tradition in many towns. Around the representation of the first Christmas, villagers gathered to marvel, pray, and sing. Often, the creche was constructed in a churchyard or on a public street. Thus, it was natural for the worshippers to stroll away from the devotional service – formal or informal – and continue singing the beloved carols as they made their way home.

This spontaneous action may well have led to the custom of going place to place to sing carols. And the more music, the better, was the rule. Any musical instrument, however humble, was a welcome addition and accompaniment.

In later centuries, the “wassailing” or “gooding” expeditions helped the growth of carolling. Singers went from house to house, receiving treats as rewards for carols.

Even oppression could not put an end to carol singing. When the Puritans abolished Christmas observances in England, printed sheets of carols were bootlegged for a penny. And poets and musicians went right on composing carols, as they do today.

 

Spirit of giving lives in Quebec’s colourful tradition:

The traditional spirit of giving that is worldwide at Christmastime takes on a special form and meaning in French Quebec. This year, as every year, will see the enactment of

a masquerade known as “La Guignolee,” to benefit all the poor of Quebec.

“La Guignolée” was begun by the first French colonists who settled in Quebec. But historians date the custom to the Druidic rite which celebrated the arrival of a new year: the cutting (with golden scythes) and the gathering of mistletoe that grew in the sacred forests.

Dress Like Trappers

The French version of “La Guignolée” has been kept alive for modern Quebec by such

organizations as the St. Vincent de Paul Society. It involves a door-to-door collection for the poor by “Les Guignoleurs.”

Since 1901, the role of “Les Guignoleurs” has been played by members of the Commercial Travelers Club of Quebec, Inc. These modern businessmen dress like the Canadian trappers of old, with their red knit caps and colorful sashes. Singing the song of “La Guignolee,” they approach each householder with a long, red woolen stocking to be filled by gifts for the poor.

“Les Guignoleurs” of early Quebec had a very different method of attaining their goal.

Arriving at the homes of the villagers, they sang a song that asked for a contribution or threatened the abduction of the eldest daughter of the household.

 

Fights Did Happen

The master and mistress of the house, or someone representing them, then opened the door and allowed “Les Guignoleurs” to enter. Gifts were placed in a bag and later emptied into a cart that followed along behind them through the village, accompanied by a swarm of children and dogs. Sometimes, when two different groups of “Guignoleurs” met, a fight ensued and the treasures of one cart would fill up the cart of the winners.

Aiding the Needy

Originally, food and clothing as well as money was collected. But for the past twenty years it has been only money, and the generous people of Quebec have contributed as much as $30,000 for the poor. The money is deposited in a bank, and checks are issued to the parish priests of the city, who use the money to aid all the needy, regardless of religious denomination.

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