02 December 2013

Day 2 of the 25 Days of Nightlight Readings: The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum

Off in the far edge of the forest in Baum's Land of OZ, comes a story of Santa Claus. (Who knew Santa appeared in OZ?!) In this fantastical story of Santa's life, Baum narrates a story of a baby abandoned at the edge of the woods and taken into the care of a wood nymph (origins from 'Fairy Hills' in heathen Scotland and Ireland—Baum is German and Scots-Irish). As the boy ages, he soon finds he can no longer stay with the nymph, and ventures out on his own to help the suffering children of the world.

In this short story, Baum highlights the traditions of Santa: crafting toys, descending chimneys, flying reindeer, and his eventual immortality. Baum's explanation of Santa's immortality is the most compelling, as Death comes for Santa and various wood spirits, nymphs, fairies, and elves decide to grant him the Mantle of Immortality.

Baum's story of Santa is little known, as it was published toward the end of his writing career (1902) and the OZ story seemed to be sucked dry. The story was unpopular until Rankin-Bass produced an hour special. Today, it still remains "lost" amid the popular children's holiday classics: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Charlie Brown Christmas, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and Frosty the Snowman.

Day 1 of the 25 Days of Nightlight Readings: The Little Drummer Boy

One of my brother's favorite Christmas carols was "The Little Drummer Boy." I recall as children in our Sunday school Christmas recital, him and his buddy fought over who was going to play the Drummer Boy. Both wanted to "pa, rum, pa-pa-pum" on the little drum and to appease both exuberant drummers, they ended with two Drummer Boys who learned to take turns.

Originally titled "Carol of the Drum," written and composed by Katherine Kennicott Davis, a music teacher at Wellesley College in Massachusetts in 1941. Davis composed the song based on an old Czech carol; however, the original carol has not been uncovered. The song was first recorded by the Trapp Family Singers (yes, the very family depicted in the Sound of Music) and made popular by Harry Simeone.

Since Simeone the song has graced the talented vocals of such singers as Bing Crosby, Johnny Mathis, Whitney Houston, and Mariah Carey (to name a few). It appears everyone has learned to take turns with this one.

Most recently the Pentatonix released a video of their version of the song.

Third Annual 25 Days of Nightlight Readings


As arctic air moves into the Pacific Northwest, my husband and I find ourselves snuggling up by the fire and relaying stories of Christmases of ol'. Despite our busy and competing schedules, it is important for us to pause and recall why this time of year is our favorite time of year. It is full of wonder, merriment, family, reminiscence, faith, love, and hope. 

This year has been especially a struggle for us: complete with life changes, health problems, financial difficulties, and the most heart wrenching, the unexpected loss of my dear uncle. The King of the Cousins.

As a fellow lover of the English word, history, the festivities of the season, and the Lord, I dedicate this year's 25 Days of Nightlight Readings in honor of Uncle Mike. May these readings warm the hearts of all men and women this holiday, and inspire someone to take pause during the hustle and bustle and remember the true reason for the season.

11 December 2012

Day 11 of Nightlight Readings: Jingle Bells

Currier & Ives
One of the best known winter songs, written by James Lord Pierpont in the 1850s, was first titled as "One Horse Open Sleigh." There is some historical debate on where Pierpont actually wrote the carol. Medford, Massachusetts claims the birthplace of the song, while historians have placed Pierpont in Georgia during this time period. People of Medford claim he wrote the song in a local tavern in 1850, but historians have since found that Pierpont was an organ player for his brother's church in Georgia and married the mayor of Savannah during this time period. As far as we have been able to pinpoint, Pierpont stayed on even after the church was closed due to abolitionism. 

Whether Pierpont wrote the song in a tavern in Massachusetts or in a church in Georgia, his sleigh-ride carol has become timeless and worldwide—even universal!

On December 16, 1965, Gemini 6 called Mission Control to say:
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....
The crew then put on a show of "Jingle Bells," featuring a harmonica and sleighbells.

10 December 2012

Day 10 of Nightlight Readings: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer's, A Little History.

Recently an aunt of mine sent out a forwarded email, which I am sure some people have seen, but it was the first time I read it. I knew part of the story of how "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" came to be, as you can look at last year's post on Day 10, but this story gives us a little more perspective on how one man who felt like a "Rudolph" was given a second chance. Here is the story:
A man named Bob May, depressed and brokenhearted, stared out his drafty apartment window into the chilling December night.

His 4-year-old daughter Barbara sat on his lap quietly sobbing. Bob's wife, Evelyn, was dying of cancer Little Barbara couldn't understand why her mommy could never come home. Barbara looked up into her dad's eyes and asked, "Why isn't Mommy just like everybody else's Mommy?" Bob's jaw tightened and his eyes welled with tears. Her question brought waves of grief, but also of anger. It had been the story of Bob's life. Life always had to be different for Bob.

Small when he was a kid, Bob was often bullied by other boys. He was too little at the time to compete in sports. He was often called names he'd rather not remember. From childhood, Bob was different and never seemed to fit in. Bob did complete college, married his loving wife and was grateful to get his job as a copywriter at Montgomery Ward during the Great Depression. Then he was blessed with his little girl. But it was all short-lived. Evelyn's bout with cancer stripped them of all their savings and now Bob and his daughter were forced to live in a two-room apartment in the Chicago slums. Evelyn died just days before Christmas in 1938.

Bob struggled to give hope to his child, for whom he couldn't even afford to buy a Christmas gift. But if he couldn't buy a gift, he was determined to make one - a storybook! Bob had created an animal character in his own mind and told the animal's story to little Barbara to give her comfort and hope. Again and again Bob told the story, embellishing it more with each telling. Who was the character? What was the story all about? The story Bob May created was his own autobiography in fable form. The character he created was a misfit outcast like he was. The name of the character? A little reindeer named Rudolph, with a big shiny nose. Bob finished the book just in time to give it to his little girl on Christmas Day. But the story doesn't end there.

The general manager of Montgomery Ward caught wind of the little storybook and offered Bob May a nominal fee to purchase the rights to print the book. Wards went on to print,_ Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer_ and distribute it to children visiting Santa Claus in their stores. By 1946 Wards had printed and distributed more than six million copies of Rudolph. That same year, a major publisher wanted to purchase the rights from Wards to print an updated version of the book.

In an unprecedented gesture of kindness, the CEO of Wards returned all rights back to Bob May. The book became a best seller. Many toy and marketing deals followed and Bob May, now remarried with a growing family, became wealthy from the story he created to comfort his grieving daughter. But the story doesn't end there either.

Bob's brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, made a song adaptation to Rudolph. Though the song was turned down by such popular vocalists as Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore , it was recorded by the singing cowboy, Gene Autry.  "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" was released in 1949 and became a phenomenal success, selling more records than any other Christmas song, with the exception of "White Christmas."

The gift of love that Bob May created for his daughter so long ago kept on returning back to bless him again and again. And Bob May learned the lesson, just like his dear friend Rudolph, that being different isn't so bad. In fact, being different can be a blessing.    
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