All of a sudden December is here and, just like that, we’re nearing the end of another year. Time really does fly when you’re having fun!
For most people December is dedicated to eating, drinking, and being merry. It’s a month of parties and presents, meals and mulled wine, and getting together with family and friends.
When you need to take a break from all the festivities, grab yourself a mince pie and sit down to relax with this month’s blog.
Where did “December” come from?
If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog series, you can probably hazard an educated guess at how December got its name…
Like November, and October before it, December takes is named for its position in the old Roman calendar. “Decem” is the Latin for “ten” and December was originally the tenth month of the year.
Before the shift to the Julian and then the Gregorian calendar, the winter days that followed the Roman December were not attached to any month and simply filled the space until the calendar started up again each March.
Depending on which hemisphere you live in, December plays host to either the shortest day of the year (winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere) or the longest day of the year (summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere).
Either way, it signals that something is coming to an end and the start of something new isn’t too far away. Seems pretty appropriate for the last month of the year.
The fascinating tales behind some famous Christmas carols
Of all the Christmassy things about December, one of my favourites is the humble Christmas carol.
Not singing them myself of course, I’m far too British for that. But there’s something timelessly festive about hearing carols sung by a choir huddled in the middle of a wintry high street and spreading good cheer.
And it turns out there are some fascinating stories behind two of the most famous carols.
Did you know that Hark the Herald Angels Sing originally had totally different lyrics and is now set to music that it’s composer specifically said shouldn’t be used for anything religious?
The original words were penned as a poem by the founder of Methodism, Charles Wesley, but the lyrics that have stood the test of time were written 20 years after Wesley by a preacher named George Whitefield.
And the music was originally composed by Mendelssohn to mark the 400th anniversary of the Gutenberg printing press. After that anniversary he wrote a letter declaring that if new words were written by anyone for the music, they must not be associated with anything religious. Oh dear…
And how about Good King Wenceslas? It turns out he was a real person (and he was good), but he wasn’t a king and he wasn’t called Wenceslas.
The carol is based on the life of a 10th century Duke of Bohemia called Vaclav. Vaclav was famous for using his wealth to help the poor. He would leave his home at night and would travel around the region distributing money to widows, orphans, prisoners, and those in need.
Unfortunately, Vaclav had a brother know as Boleslaus the Cruel. As befits his name, Boleslaus did not approve of his brother’s charitable acts and had Vaclav assassinated.
There’s a final twist in the tale of Vaclav/Wenceslas. The world only knows about him now because in 1853 an Englishman named John Mason Neale somehow discovered the obscure story of Vaclav and set it to the tune of an equally unknown Finnish song about the coming of spring, as you do.
Upcoming curious December days
In case your December diary isn’t already filled to the brim, or if you just want to so something in this month that doesn’t revolve around Christmas, here are some lesser-known days in December to whet your appetite.
How about getting down to earth on December 5th in honour of World Soil Day? This annual day is dedicated to learning about how unpolluted soil is a crucial part of a healthy food chain for humans and animals alike.
If making the most of mud isn’t your cup of tea then why not spend December 5th celebrating the Day of the Ninja. Created in 2003 by a parody website, people are encouraged to spend the day “engaged in ninja activities” like striking ninja poses in front of famous landmarks.
Last but not least, celebrate all things simian for the unofficial International Monkey Day on December 14th. People hold fundraising events, costume parties, art events to raise awareness about the welfare of monkeys of all shapes and sizes.
And there you have it, another installment of fascinating facts done and dusted. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed learning a little about December, some fascinating tales behind some of the most famous Christmas carols, and have been inspired to add some less conventional dates to your plans for the month.
All that’s left for me to do is wish you all a very merry Christmas from everyone here are The Book of Everyone. See you in 2022!