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Posted in Christmas, Historical articles, History, Religion, Royalty on Monday, 20 May 2013
This edited article about Charlemagne originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 259 published on 31 December 1966.
The Roman Empire was already in a state of decline when it was overrun by barbarian tribes. They settled first as allies within the scope of the Empire, but then turned to arms and took parts of it for their own. The Vandals captured the North African limits of the Empire, the Visigoths settled in Spain, the Ostrogoths in Italy, and the Franks west of the Danube, in Gaul.
The Franks first became prominent under their King, Clovis, when they accepted the Christian faith about the year A.D. 500. Clovis was the only notable member of the Merovingian dynasty, which petered out in murderous struggles between his descendants.
Control of the kingdom then came into the hands of a family known as the Carolingians, whose first King, Pepin, obtained papal sanction for his usurpation of the throne.
One of the principal reasons for the success of the Carolingian dynasty is found in their good relations with the Church. Pepin went to Italy himself to protect the Pope from the King of the Lombards.
Pepin was succeeded by a son so renowned that he is always known as Charlemagne, or Charles the Great. Charlemagne’s armies extended the frontiers of the Frankish kingdom in every direction. He overthrew the Lombard King of Italy and took his crown; pushed the Moors back over the Pyrenees; conquered the Germanic tribes in Bavaria; and conquered and converted those in Saxony.
Charlemagne saw himself as a Christian King ruling a Christian people. But if the Scriptures were to be read, the spread of learning must be encouraged. Charlemagne invited scholars to his court, the most famous of them being an Englishman named Alcuin.
Charlemagne instructed all monasteries to teach reading and writing in their schools, and as a result a new style of writing remarkable for its clarity appeared at this time. This is known as the Carolingian ‘miniscule’.
In the year A.D. 800, Charlemagne went to Italy to defend the Pope from Lombard aggressors, and while he was in Rome, on Christmas Day, he was crowned Emperor by the Pope.
Charlemagne thought of himself as carrying on the traditions of the ancient empire of Rome, but a new empire had been founded in the West which owed little to the traditions of classical Rome. This was the Holy Roman Empire, which survived in some form until 1806.
Posted in America, Christmas, Historical articles, History, Rivers, War on Friday, 17 May 2013
This edited article about the American War of Independence originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 258 published on 24 December 1966.
On Christmas Night, 1776, an event occurred which changed the history of the world. The American colonists, who had broken away from Great Britain the previous July and formed a new nation, seemed doomed. Their small army, under General George Washington, was in retreat. In early December, it crossed the icy Delaware river to the Pennsylvania side.
Washington’s men were ill-fed and raggedly dressed; some were bare-footed, and many had deserted. The European enemies of Britain had written off the Americans’ chances. But, on Christmas Eve, Washington decided to re-cross the Delaware and attack the British and their German mercenary troops from Hesse, who were in Trenton, eight miles away. His only possible advantage was that the Hessians would be busy celebrating Christmas!
The crossing started on Christmas evening in a snowstorm. The men went first, then the horses, then the artillery. The operation took nine hours and not a man was lost. Washington stood on the bank directing operations, until his horse came across, then he mounted and rode among his men, encouraging and inspiring them. The sight of their beloved leader on his horse sent their weary spirits soaring.
At 3 a.m., the march to Trenton began. By the end of the day, Washington had won a great victory. The tide turned. Europe’s interest in the American cause was re-awakened. Whatever happened now, the worst was over. The young nation would survive.
Posted in Actors, Christmas, Historical articles, History, Music, Theatre on Thursday, 21 March 2013
This edited article about Pantomime originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 206 published on 25 December 1965.
At a performance of Cinderella
, the popular Christmas pantomime by John Worsley
It is Boxing Day, 1865 – just a hundred years ago – and that unique entertainment, British Pantomime, is at the very height of its popularity. In London alone there are ten main productions, led by Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp; or, Harlequin and the Flying Palace at Covent Garden and Little King Pippin; or, Harlequin Fortunatus and the Magic Purse and Wishing Cap, at Drury Lane!
These Pantomimes were not much like those we have today – over the years they have gradually changed – but Pantomime has never ceased to live up to one of its basic meanings, which is “a state of confusion!” For most of its history, it has been a mixture of singing, dancing, topical jokes, pageantry, beautiful spectacle, villains and fairies – and there has been a wonderful refusal to be tied down by common sense in the telling of the story.
The first English Pantomime, put on by John Rich in 1717, was inspired by the old Italian comedies, the Commedia dell’ Arte, which featured characters like Harlequin, the beautiful Columbine, Pierrot and Pantaloon. Rich’s Pantomimes were dumb-shows, the action being carried on by “mime,” not speech.
Then, over the years, Harlequin lost his senior position in Pantomime to Clown – which brings us to the greatest of all British clowns: Joseph Grimaldi.
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Posted in Bible, Christmas, Religion on Wednesday, 20 March 2013
This edited article about the Bible originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 205 published on 18 December 1965.
“When Jesus was born in Bethlehem . . . there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.”
From simple words like these in the second chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel, we have created one of the loveliest scenes in the Christmas pageant, that of “three Kings from Persian lands afar” – to quote an old carol – whom we have come to picture with all the pomp and ceremony which art and imagination can devise.
How did this picture come into being? Is it a true one?
Let us look at the facts.
The Greek word for these men, used in the Gospel story, was magoi, often written as magi, and found in our more familiar word “magician.” It simply means “wise men” or “astrologers.”
There is no reference to “Kings” in connection with them. The earliest mention of this title is in the works of a North African Christian called Tertullian. Writing in Latin, about a century later than the author of the Gospel, he spoke of the Wise Men as “fere reges” – “almost Kings.”
By the sixth century, the belief that “Kings” came to the birthplace of Jesus was general. The value of the gifts which they brought seemed to confirm that these could only have been offered by men of royal wealth. A passage from Psalm 72 verse 10, written long before the time of Christ, also seemed to foretell this strange visit, for it said: “The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Arabia and Seba shall offer gifts.”
Three gifts suggest that there were three givers, but this was not necessarily so. There might as easily have been two, one with gold, the other with the two costly and fragrant gums, or resins – frankincense and myrrh – which could be used in the preparation of medicines, or burned, as incense had been burned for centuries by those of many religions, as a symbol of mystery and prayer.
There are also legends of a fourth Wise Man who set out on the journey, but who turned back, discouraged by its hardships. There is no mention of him in the New Testament, however.
A third century Egyptian scholar called Origen first made the definite statement that the Wise Men were three in number. He lived a little later than Tertullian, in the city of Alexandria, and was the leading biblical teacher in his day.
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Posted in Christmas, Customs, Historical articles, History, Plants, Religion, Royalty on Saturday, 23 February 2013
This edited article about Christmas originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 154 published on 26 December 1964.
Victoria and Albert enjoy the first Christmas tree at Windsor by C L Doughty
The hearty Christmas celebrations of Tudor and Stuart times came to an end when Cromwell’s government abolished all Church festivals in 1647. The Puritans of those times disapproved of all ceremonies in connection with religion, and were eager to point out how many pagan customs had come to be linked with Christmas. They called it “The Old Heathen’s Feasting Day.” In 1662 the observance of Christmas was again permitted, but it took a long time to recover its former gaiety. Dickens did much to restore this in the nineteenth century, and although the twentieth century has turned the keeping of Christmas into an industry, its true meaning is remembered in millions of homes each year.
On Christmas Eve 1864, two children stood at the window of their house in a London Square. They were waiting for their father, who had promised to bring something for Christmas which they had never seen before. This was their first Christmas in London, and so far it was rather a disappointing one compared with those they had known in Scotland, when the ground was often thick with snow by Christmas Eve. Today there was only fog, something which would delay father even longer.
“I wonder why it never snows in time for Christmas here,” said Julia to her twin brother, Robert. “In the old books there always seemed to be snow, and all the Christmas Carols mention it.”
Robert was quite a scholar: “Remember they altered the calendar just a hundred years ago,” he said. “They put it back eleven whole days, so that now the coldest weather comes after Christmas instead of before.”
“Well, I think that was a pity,” pouted Julia. “A real Christmas needs snow on the ground outside just as much as decorations inside. Then people feel really ‘Christmasy’ and everything happens like it did in that story of Mr. Pickwick which father read to us last week.”
“Not even Mr. Charles Dickens’s Christmases are all like that,” replied Robert. “A Christmas Carol begins on a foggy day just like this one, you read it and see!”
At that moment there was a ring at the door.
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Posted in Animals, Birds, Christmas, Nature, Wildlife on Saturday, 23 February 2013
This edited article about the robin originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 154 published on 26 December 1964.
Robin in the snow
When you hear the silvery voice of a robin calling “cheer-up, cheer-up” on a winter morning, you know why this jolly little bird is our symbol of a merry Christmas, and a favourite subject for the greeting card. His bright eyes and handsome plumage bring a welcome flash of colour to the dreariest winter scene as he jauntily hops about the frozen ground industriously searching for something to eat.
Robin is the only bird that sings throughout the year. In summer his voice is drowned in the songs of other birds but when winter comes he steals the show. No matter how cold the weather nor how scarce food may be, he never mopes nor feels sorry for himself. He just makes the best of things as he pipes his cheery note and gets on with the job of staying alive.
The robin or, to give it its scientific name, erithacus rubecula, is a member of the thrush family. It is native to Europe, the Azores and Canary islands, parts of Africa and West Asia.
There is little distinction between the plumage and colouring of the male and female robins.
The back, wings and upper parts of the full-grown bird, which is about six inches long, are usually greenish-brown. A blue-grey stripe runs from the crown of the head, over the eyes, and round the side of the neck down to the flanks. The eyes are exceptionally black. But it is the brilliant red forehead, face and breast that distinguish the robin from all other British birds.
Of all wild birds the robin is the least afraid of man. A robin is very easy to tame and soon comes fluttering down to anyone who feeds it.
Watch one in the garden on a winter’s day looking rounder than ever with his feathers all puffed out, flitting from bush to bush, then suddenly dropping to a flower bed in that quick dive peculiar to his kind.
You will notice, too, that if there are several robins in a garden, each keeps to his own particular part. If two are seen together, one will be in hot chase of the other as they flutter through the shrubbery and skim across fences.
As often as not, the chase ends in a desperate fight. Then back comes the victor swaggering and singing. He has chased an intruder from his beat or winter territory.
There is nothing gentlemanly about the cock robin when it comes to defending territorial rights. He will chase off or fight a hen robin who ventures into his territory as fiercely as he would another male.
It is only in the breeding season that there is a temporary truce to the robins’ war.
For a few weeks in spring a male and female will live together in a single territory and devote their energy to building a nest and raising a family. But woe betide any other robin, male or female, that ventures near them.
The robin’s nest is usually in a hole in a bank, among ivy on a wall, in a stack of wood drying in a shed, or any other place that is reasonably sheltered.
More than any other bird, it will choose some freak site for its nest, often setting up house in a flower pot lying on a greenhouse shelf, an old watering can, or even in a scarecrow’s hat.
The nest consists of a woven mass of grass, dead leaves and moss lined with hair and feathers. In this are laid four to six whitish eggs mottled and spotted with red.
Most robins raise two or three families a year. The first clutch of eggs is laid early, often in January, and the last in the spring.
Posted in Christmas, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Oddities, Sport, World War 1 on Saturday, 23 February 2013
This edited article about World War One originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 154 published on 26 December 1964.
The Christmas Day Armistice on parts of the Western Front in 1914, by Pat Nicolle
Suddenly it was Christmas . . . and suddenly the great guns that had pounded out death and destruction in the first four cruel months of the worst war mankind had experienced were quiet.
As the weak sun rose over the battle-scarred fields of France it was literally all quiet on the western front.
The year was 1914 – exactly fifty years ago this Christmas. All that happened on that day is still not transparently clear. But many veterans remember that on the British side, junior officers, N.C.O.s and private soldiers climbed out of their trenches unarmed, walked across No Man’s Land – the strip of land between the opposing armies – and took presents to their opposite numbers in the German trenches.
And when they came back they brought with them gifts received from the Germans.
This astonishing incident was repeated in several places along the lines. Some British troops even went into the German trenches to eat their Christmas dinners with the enemy, and German troops did the same in the British trenches.
Two reports declared that football matches were played with the enemy – one by the Buffs, a Kent infantry regiment, and the other by the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
When this information reached General Headquarters, Sir John French, British Commander in the Field, was horrified. Officers were reprimanded and strict instructions issued to prevent a repetition.
Afterwards French wrote, “I called the local commanders to strict account, which resulted in a good deal of trouble.”
When the Commander’s orders reached the front lines the guns opened fire once more. The Christmas Day Armistice was never repeated.
Posted in Christmas, Customs, Historical articles, History, Plants on Monday, 26 March 2012
This edited article about Christmas customs originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 676 published on 28 December 1974.
Bringing in the Yule log is an ancient Christmas custom, by Angus McBride
When we decorate our homes for Christmas with evergreens, we are following a custom which began long before people wanted to celebrate the birthday of Christ. In the far North, it had long been the way of marking the passing of the year’s shortest day. The return of longer days brought the first signs of Spring, and what better way was there of proclaiming the promise of new growth than to decorate homes with these remarkable plants which had kept their green leaves throughout the Winter? When Christmas became a festival to mark the birthday of the founder of the Christian religion, these older customs were simply gathered up as part of the general celebrations, and have remained a part of Christmas ever since.
About three hundred years ago there was a custom in Oxfordshire by which servant-girls at the great houses used to ask one of the village youths to cut and carry sufficient ivy to decorate the house. If a man refused, or having promised, failed to provide enough, the maidservant had the right to steal a pair of his breeches and nail them to the gate of the house, where they remained over Christmas to give the passers-by a good laugh.
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Posted in Christmas, English Literature, Historical articles, History, Literature on Monday, 26 March 2012
This edited article about Christmas ghosts originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 676 published on 28 December 1974.
Marley’s ghost visits Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol
by Charles Dickens. Picture by Pat Nicolle
Ghost stories are always enjoyable, and never more so than at Christmas time. Dark nights, howling winds, perhaps the threat of snow outside, all provide the perfect setting for the story of a good haunting to people gathered around the fire indoors. Yet Christmas itself is strictly a non-ghost season. Ghosts were long thought of as wandering about at night, and the moment dawn appeared – announced by the crowing of a cock – they had to leave off their hauntings, and return to the unseen world of spirits.
Shakespeare knew of this tradition. In the opening scene of his play Hamlet, the ghost of Hamlet’s father is seen by a group of watchers in the night. Then the ghost vanishes – “It faded on the crowing of the cock,” says one.
There are also many old rhymes and carols which suggest that in the Christmas Season all evil influences are subdued, and that such unusual things as do happen are of a good and happy kind. An old Cornish poem claims that on Christmas Eve the bees in every hive sing or at least hum, all night long, for joy at the news of the birth of Jesus, and that the cows in their stalls turn to the east and kneel in his honour. Certain flowers, such as the Christmas Rose and Glastonbury Thorn, burst into flower at this time for the same reason. The same old verses say that all evil spells, curses, wicked charms, and “things that go bump in the night” are made powerless so long as the Christmas festival lasts.
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Posted in Actors, Arts and Crafts, Christmas, Historical articles, History, Literature, Magic, Theatre on Monday, 26 March 2012
This edited article about pantomime originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 676 published on 28 December 1974.
What makes a good pantomime? Catchy songs? Spectacular scenery? Certainly knock-about comedy, and at least the outline of some well-known fairy story, of which “Cinderella” is the outright favourite. Though it is essentially a Christmas entertainment, pantomime also has more to do with the old fashioned summer pierrot show at a seaside resort, than the “pier” on which it is acted.
For pantomime has a long history, and many learned books have been written about it. At different times “pantomime” has meant very different kinds of entertainment, some of which bear practically no resemblance to a modern performance of that name. Yet nearly all of them have contributed something to the entertainment which, even today, fills our theatres as nothing else can.
“Pantomime” is really a pair of old Greek words meaning “Let’s all pretend”. It began as a kind of play without words, in which masks were used to represent different people and their moods. Many modern pantomimes make great use of disguises in their stories – giants, fairy godmothers, witches and wolves, for example. Cinderella is full of them, just like those Greek “pantomimes” of 2000 years ago.
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