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Genealogy Today: 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’

We all grew up singing “Jingle Bells” without much thought for
its origins. The song was written in 1857 by James Lord Pierpont, a
sometimes writer and music director at his brother’s church in
Savannah, Ga. 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,

Since Pierpont had grown up in Boston, Mass., 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 Dec. 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 it’s 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!

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.

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” and more.

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

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

Betty Lou Malesky, Certified GenealogistSM, is a past president
of Green Valley Genealogical Society. Contact her at or visit the society’s website at


© 2011 Green Valley News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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