The History of Memorial Day for Kids

Have you ever heard of Memorial Day? Memorial Day is an American holiday honoring men and women who have died while serving in the military. It takes place on the last Monday of May every year. Most kids and adults get this day off work and school, so usually the day is filled with parties and vacation time. I know growing up most of my memories of Memorial Day involved pool parties and barbeques with family and friends. And while it’s good to spend time with those we love, it’s also important to understand why we have Memorial Day. Growing up, I also remember visiting the cemetery to place flowers on the wreath of my grandfather. My grandfather served in England during World War 2. He had to leave his wife and daughter and while he was away his job was to guard the bomber planes at night. He didn’t die during that war, but we still honored him for his service. I also had a younger brother who passed away, so we always visited his grave as well. 

Memorial Day is a special time to remember those who are no longer with us. If you notice the word “memorial” sounds kind of like “memory” and that means on this day we remember our family and friends who have passed away. 

Memorial Day was first known as Decoration Day and originally started during the years after the American Civil War. The Civil War was a time when many lives were lost, so many families around this time of year were thinking about their brothers, husbands, and sons and wanted to remember them by decorating their graves.

One reason Memorial Day is during the Spring is when flowers are in bloom and often families decorated the graves with flowers. No one is exactly sure when Decoration Day started, there are many different theories and ideas, but after the Civil War and World War 1 and World War II Decoration Day became more and more popular. 

One of the towns where Decoration Day was celebrated was Waterloo, New York. In Waterloo they held a large event where businesses closed and the entire community came out to decorate the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags. The first time they celebrated it was May 5th 1866. Over time many other states started holding their own Decoration Day. Often these holidays have a parade which include those in the military and veterans. A veteran is someone who served in the military, but was no longer serving. Some of the largest parades take place in Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. 

Finally in 1967 the United States government decided to make Memorial Day a holiday all across the country and placed it on Monday so it could be a three day weekend. Because of the time of the year it also unofficially marks the beginning of summer, which is one reason families use it to go on vacation, spend time outside, have pool parties, go to the beach and have barbecues. 

While Memorial Day is an American holiday, many other countries have days set aside to honor those who served in the military. South Korea has their Memorial Day on June 6th, the same month the Korean War began. The United Kingdom, Canada, France and many other countries celebrate Armistice Day on November 11th, when World War 2 ended. Each country has their own celebration that tends to correspond to the end of a war where they remember those who were lost. 

How do you plan to celebrate Memorial Day this year? Is there someone in your family who you will remember? Spend some time thinking about all that you have and the freedoms you enjoy because of others who came before you and were willing to sacrifice their time and even their lives. Memorial Day is also a good time to spend with your family. Take the time to think about how fortunate you are to have friends and family in your life and to not take them for granted.

The History of Easter for Kids

Have you ever heard of Easter Island?  Many movies talk about it and some even say that is where the Easter Bunny lives.  But in fact, it is a real place that has nothing to do with the holiday of Easter. But many people know of Easter Island from the large famous face statues that are often seen in pictures of the place.  So why does Easter Island have this name?

Easter Island is a large island that covers nearly 65 square miles.  It is located in the South Pacific Ocean, far off of the west coast of the country of Chile in South America.  It is also an almost equal number of miles to the east of Tahiti.  

Many people have been confused about the name “Easter Island” and have wondered whether the island has something to do with the holiday of Easter. Is this where the Easter Bunny lives when he is not hopping around the world delivering eggs?  Let’s find out. 

The first people to live on Easter Island arrived on the island around the year 400 A.D. They were from another Polynesian island close by and they came to Easter Island looking for a new place to live.  These first people called the island “Rapa Nui”.  Because of its remote, or far away, location, the first peoples of Rapa Nui lived there on their own for hundreds of years before there were any other visitors from other countries. 

The traditions and stories of the Polynesian people say that the first king of Rapa Nui was named “Hoto-Matua”.  He was a ruler of a group of people that traveled around many islands in the area.  The group of explorers led by Hoto-Matua was searching for a new place to make their home. The story says that after traveling thousands of miles, the exploring group landed at a sandy beach on the island.  The island of Rapa Nui is actually quite rocky on the coast, or edge of the land near the water.

The traditional Polynesian story says that the group, led by their leader, Hoto-Matua, landed on the sandy beach, which was one of the only sandy spots on the coast. The group explored the island and found that it was a great place to live.  It was abundant, with many fish and other types of food, and had a good climate or weather.  They decided to stay and build their home on this newly found island.  This is the start of the first peoples living on Rapa Nui, or Easter Island. The first peoples learned how to harvest food and fish on the island, including native fruit and plants.   They grew in size over time and developed a long and rich culture over the hundreds of years since the first group arrived.

One of the best pieces of evidence ot the early people that lived on the island is the giant stone statues that have been found around Easter Island.  These statues are called “moai” and are part of what makes Easter Island famous.  You may have even seen pictures of these statues before.  They look like giant stone heads sticking out of the ground. 

There are over 900 moai statues all over Easter Island.  The statues are all around 13 feet (or 4 meters) high, with a weight of 13 tons!  They are huge faces and chests carved out of a type of rock called “tuff”.  Tuff is a light and porous rock, or rock with holes in it, that was made from volcanic ashes.  One thing that many people don’t know about the statues is that they actually go into the ground and continue at least partly underground.  They are a mystery that no one can really solve. 

No one today knows why these statues were made and why there are so many.  It is also a mystery why they were built so big and how they were moved around the island.

One thing is for sure: the statues show that their creators, the early people of Easter Island, were very good craftsmen and engineers, or people who design and make strong structures.  And while the early people who lived on Easter Island were partly Polynesian, the statues on Easter island are distinct, or different only to them, so their culture was different than the Polynesian culture.

In modern times, researchers have determined that there were three different cultural phases, or separate times in human history there.  During the early and middle periods, statues were built and torn down and then rebuilt in the same places.  In the later period, the statues were built even bigger than before and are the statues that we see pictures of today. 

The first European person to visit Easter Island was a Dutch explorer named Jacob Roggeveen.  He came exploring the area in the year 1722. Captain Roggeveen and his crew arrived on the island on the holiday of Easter.  To help remember the day and celebrate it, the Dutch named the island Paaseiland, which means “Easter Island” in Dutch. 

In 1770, the Spanish government in Peru sent a group of explorers to Easter Island. The explorers spent four days on the island.  They found that there were about 3,000 native people living on the island. 

Unfortunately, as more and more explorers started visiting the island, they also had diseases that the local islanders had not been around before.  As a result, many of the native islanders died and by 1877, there were only 111 native people living on the island. 

By 1877, Catholic explorers had come to the island to convert, or teach and change the local people to, Christianity.  By the late 19th century, almost all of the people living on the island were Christians. 

In 1888, Chile started using the land to raise sheep.  The government of Chile also appointed a governor to be in charge of Easter Island in 1965, and the island’s people all became Chilean citizens. 

Easter Island is the shape of a triangle and measures 14 miles long by 7 miles wide. It was formed by a series of volcano eruptions over time.  The island has many hills and caves within the rocks that go way back into the mountains.  Because much of the rock on the island is made of volcanic rock, it is easy for the rock to form caves and holes over time. 

Easter Island’s largest volcano is called Rano Kao.  It has a highest point that its called Mount Terevaka that reaches 1,665 feet (or 508 meters) above the sea.  

Easter Island is a sub-tropical, which means it is located below the mid-point of the Earth called the equator and has sunny and dry weather. 

Easter Island does not have any natural bays to form harbours that are places for boats to be parked away from the harsh weather of the ocean. The island’s largest village is called Hanga Roa. It was made into a World Heritage site in 1995, so it will not be developed into a tourist place full of hotels and other developments. 

Today, Easter Island is home to a mixed group of people.  Many of the people living on the island have Polynesian ancestors, or older relatives. The locals now mostly speak Spanish and there are some tourists that visit during the year.

The History of St. Patrick’s Day for Kids

Imagine you are in Boston and it is March 17.  You are walking down the street with your family, when suddenly you hear a marching band in the distance.  It sounds loud and fun, with fiddles and pipes and drums.  What is that noise?  It is getting closer and closer and you stand by and watch as around the corner come hundreds of people dressed in green.  They are laughing and playing music.  Some are wearing red wigs and fake beards.  “What is going on?” you ask your parents.  “Why, it’s St. Patrick’s Day of course” they reply. 

St. Patrick’s Day is a special day that is celebrated around the world each year on March 17 to celebrate Irish culture and history.  It is also a date meant to remember the death of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. St. Patrick’s day has become a large celebration around the world of Irish culture and pride, with parades, special foods, dancing, music and people wearing all things green!

But what is the history of St. Patrick’s Day and why do we celebrate it? 

St. Patrick’s Day started as a day to celebrate the patron saint of Ireland. St. Patrick was born in Roman Britain in the 5th century and grew up with a father who was a deacon of their local church.  So even though St. Patrick became the patron saint of Ireland, he was not actually Irish but actually British. 

When Patrick was 16 years old, Irish raiders came to his village and he was kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave.  A slave is someone who is held captive and has to do work for another person for no money.  Patrick spent 6 years living in Ireland as a slave herdsman, taking care of cattle.  He was sad living as a slave and turned to prayer and religion to keep his spirits up.  He prayed regularly to escape so he could return home. 

One night when he was 24, Patrick snuck away from his master and got onto a ship headed back to Britain.  It was a difficult journey and Patrick didn’t have anything to eat on the way, so he nearly starved to death.  However, Patrick made it successfully to the other side of the sea to his own country of Britain. 

Patrick lived in Britain for a short while again.  But one day while reading about the Irish people, he felt called to return to Ireland and teach the Irish people about his religion, Christianity. Although he had doubts about whether it was a good idea, he decided to return to Ireland, this time as a free man. 

Patrick returned to Ireland and traveled broadly throughout the country, teaching people everywhere he went about his religion. It was a dangerous time to be traveling alone as a foreigner and trying to convert people.  To convert means to change people’s thinking so that they believe the same things as you.  However, Patrick had great faith in his mission and carried on, despite being arrested, put in chains, and threatened with death.

As Patrick traveled around Ireland and became more well known, myths and legends started to grow about him.  Myths and legends are imaginary stories. One of these legends was that Patrick scared all of the snakes in Ireland out of the country and into the sea where they died.  Some people believed that Patrick was also able to bring people back from the dead and that he was able to create food out of thin air. 

One of the most well known legends about St. Patrick is that he explained the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity to Irish people by using the three leaves of an Irish clover or shamrock.  Shamrocks have since become symbols of St. Patrick’s day. 

St. Patrick died on March 17, 461 A.D.  However, he did not actually become a saint until many years later, which is the normal process for Catholic sainthood.  March 17th became celebrated around the world as “St. Patrick’s day” at first to celebrate him, and later to celebrate Irish cultural heritage generally.  Cultural heritage means traditions and ways of life that have passed down through generations.

In Ireland today, St. Patrick’s day is celebrated as a religious holiday.  Irish families celebrate by going to church in the morning and having a party in the afternoon.  Irish people will usually dance and drink in their afternoon parties and eat a meal that includes meat, such as Irish bacon and cabbage. 

In America and other places with many Irish immigrants, St. Patricks day is celebrated on March 17, but with different traditions. In these countries, people of Irish descent hold large annual parades featuring bagpipes and drums. Many people wear green and dress up. 

The tradition started in America in the 1840s, when many Irish people left Ireland due to the Great Potato Famine of 1845.  A famine is an extreme shortage of food. In the 1840s, nearly 1 million poor Irish people moved to America to escape starvation in Ireland.  With so many Irish people now living in New York and other American cities, the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations grew in size and popularity. 

In 1848, many New York Irish societies decided to join together to form one big St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  Today, that parade is the largest parade in the United States with over 150,000 people participating each year and 3 million people watching on the side of the road.  There are also very large St. Patrick’s Day parades held in other cities, including Boston and Chicago.

As Irish immigrants spread out over the United States and around the world, cities and countries developed their own traditions.  This is especially true in the United States, Canada and Australia.  Some common traditions include wearing shamrocks, which represents St. Patrick’s teachings to the Irish people.  Many people like to plan Irish music, including fiddles and pipes, on St. Patrick’s day.  There is a tradition of people carrying a snake staff in St. Patrick’s day parades to represent St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland.  

In Chicago, the city even dyes the local river green for St. Patrick’s Day!

While Irish people eat bacon and cabbage on St. Patricks, Irish Americans now celebrate by eating a meal of corned beef and cabbage. This is because the first Irish immigrants to America were very poor and couldn’t afford the traditional bacon and cabbage that they ate back home. Instead they had corned beef and cabbage, having learned about this cheaper meat from their new Jewish neighbours in America. 

Many listeners will likely have heard about the small Irish imp called a “leprechaun”.  Leprechauns come from old Celtic belief in fairies, which were tiny, magical men and women. In old Celtic fairy tales, leprechauns were cranky little people that were responsible for mending the shoes of the other fairies. Leprechauns were also believed to be hiding gold and would use trickery to protect their hiding places. Today, many people like to dress up as leprechauns on St. Patrick’s Day. 

One tradition that many children are familiar with is the practice of pinching people on St. Patrick’s day if they are not wearing green. Because green came to be seen as the color of Irish pride amongst Irish people in America, pinching those who were not wearing green started as a gentle way of reprimanding those who were not showing Irish pride.  To reprimand means to scold or criticize someone.  However, now-of-days, kids do this mostly just for fun.  So don’t forget to wear something green on March 17th!

Have you ever seen and participated in St. Patrick’s Day celebrations?  What are some of the ways that your family celebrates their cultural heritage?  

If you do leave a comment or message on the Bedtime History Facebook or Instagram pages.  We’d love to hear more about your family and cultural celebrations.  And for those who celebrate, Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

The History of Halloween for Kids

Every year around this time in North America, the nights get longer and darker.  Children start to visit pumpkin patches and plan their costumes all in the hopes of getting ready for Halloween.  People decorate their yards with scary scenes and decorations.  And families fill large bowls with candy to hand out to children on Halloween Night. 

Have you ever wondered where the tradition of Halloween comes from?

Halloween began as an ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (“sow-in”).  Celtic people were northern European people that lived in the United Kingdom and Ireland 2,000 years ago.  The Samhain festival was celebrated on the Celtic peoples’ new year, which was on November 1st.  

The festival marked the end of summer and the beginning of dark cold winters.  The Celtic people believed that on the night before the new year, the ghosts of the dead returned to the earth for one night. 

During the festival of Samhain, people would light bonfires and wear costumes. The purpose was that they thought that it was one night a year that they could also predict the future.  They thought that the bonfire and costumes helped them to tell each other’s fortunes.  The Celtic people thought of these spirits as friendly, after all they were ghosts of their relatives.  They set places at the dinner table, left treats on doorsteps and lit candles along the side of the road leading up to their houses to help their loved ones find their way back home and then back to the spirit world.

Usually, the night after the Samhain festival, people would use fire from the sacred bonfire to re-light the fires in their home fireplaces.  They thought that this would help to protect them during the winter.  

Many years later, Roman people invaded the area and Christianity spread to the Celtic people that lived there.  By the 9th century, Christian traditions blended together with Celtic traditions, including the Samhain celebrations on November 1st.  

The Christian church called November 1st “All Souls’ Day” and it became a day that was blended together into one festival to honour the dead.

The newly titled, “All Souls Day” was celebrated in a way similar to what had been done to celebrate Samhain. People made big bonfires and dressed up in costumes and had parades.  The costumes that most people dressed up in at the time were of saints, angels and devils. The Middle English word Alholowmesse meant “All Saints’ Day” and later became “All-hallows”. The night before that, October 31st, became known as “All-Hallows Eve” and eventually, Halloween.

When immigrants travelled from the United Kingdom to America in the 1500s and 1600s, they brought Halloween with them. On the east coast of America, new Americans from Europe and Native Americans already living there, started to interact.  Eventually Halloween began to become a blended event again.  This time, it was version of the European version and American version brought together — also called a hybrid.  A hybrid means a thing that is made by combining two different elements.  And so Halloween changed again as it became a new version in America.

People began to hold plays to celebrate the harvest season and they would act out and share stories about the dead and dance and sing.  Some of the practices came from the Celtic Samhain festival and some were Native American practices.  People also told each other’s fortunes, played tricks on each other and told stories about the dead.  

Halloween started to spread from the east coast of America across the country.  Many new immigrants started coming to the United States from Ireland and other places.  As the Irish people, who were ancestors of the Celtic people, spread across the country and the tradition of celebrating Halloween came with them.

In England and Ireland, the celebration of All-Hallows Eve involved dressing up in costumes and going from house to house to ask for money or food.  In America, this became the tradition of trick-or-treating.  

The tradition of dressing up in costumes on Halloween began in old England as well.  In the olden days on All Hallows Eve, people thought that ghosts came back to earth for one day.  They generally tried not to leave their homes on that day, but if they did have to for some reason, they would dress in a costume of a ghost or spirit so that if they did come across a ghost, it would think they were a ghost too.

Another tradition of Celtic people on All Hallows Eve was to leave bowls of food outside their houses so that ghosts would find it and be happy.  As a result, they wouldn’t try to get in the house.  This was the start of the tradition of “Trick-or-treating.”

Trick-or-treating today is a very popular activity.  But in the old days it was not the same activity as it was in Celtic times.  Back then, there were a lot of poor people.  Because so many people were hungry, the government encouraged families who had enough food to put out bowls on Halloween to give the food to the poor instead.  People started doing this and once it became a common practice, more and more people started going door to door to beg for food on All Hallows Eve.  One type of food that people would commonly give out was called “soul cakes”.  People started handing these out to people who knocked on their door in exchange for the poor person making promises that they would say prayers for their dead relatives. 

The tradition of handing out treats became more wide-spread over time, and more and more people joined the practice of “trick-or-treating.”  Eventually, people would play tricks on their neighbours on this night to make them think that ghosts were trying to get into their house.  This grew into all sorts of different tricks and jokes.  But some people did not like to get pranked. In order to prevent tricks being played on them, some neighbours started handing out sweets to make them stop.  

Another common superstition that we practice on Halloween is avoiding crossing paths with black cats.  The idea that black cats cause bad luck came from the Middle Ages.  Back then, many people believed that witches were real.  They thought that if a witch was spotted and being chased, that she would turn into a black cats so that she could escape and no one could know where she was.

In the late 1800s, many people because religious.  Some of the most widespread religions in America at the time did not think that it was good to dress up as ghosts or celebrate the dead on Halloween.  They wanted Halloween to be more of a happy celebration about neighbours and getting together.  They started getting together to host parties and had costumes and games and treats instead of the traditional plays and bonfires and pranking.

Community leaders started encouraging people to stop wearing scary costumes.  Kids started to dress in sweet or funny costumes often instead.  Because of these efforts, in the early 1900s, Halloween lost much of its superstitious and religious elements. Superstitious means believing in and celebrating supernatural beings, like ghosts.

In the 1950s and 1960s, there was a “baby boom” in America, which means that a lot of babies were born within a short period of time.  This happened after the second world war because soldiers came home and western countries were safe and happy again.  Because there were so many kids born at that time, the parties that used to be held in the town centre or town hall area in past years were now moved to be celebrated in classrooms and house parties where more people could fit comfortably.

Today Halloween is an American tradition and has become incredibly popular.  People spend millions of dollars each year on Halloween candy and decorations.  Halloween is the second most popular western holiday after Christmas  

Is Halloween something that you celebrate in your neighborhood?  Do you like to get dressed up in costumes in October and attend parties?  Well now that you know the history of Halloween, you will know where some of these interesting traditions come from.  Maybe you’ll also think about how interesting it is that traditions change over time, as different people move to different parts of the world and bring traditions with them and how others adopt them and turn them into their own version over time.  It is cool to think that many traditions of Halloween have lasted over 2,000 years and have become widespread in many other countries than the celebration’s Celtic origin. And it is equally interesting to think about how the celebration has changed over time and why.

Regardless, we hope you have a safe and happy Halloween and that you get a chance to have some fun with some of the old and new traditions that are part of this spooky but fun time of year.  Happy Halloween!

History of Christmas Carols For Kids

“We wish you a Merry Christmas, We wish you a Merry Christmas, We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!”

Have you heard this song before?  It’s an example of a Christmas carol that we often hear on the radio and in homes around America and the world this time of year. Christmas carols are familiar tunes that bring joy and Christmas spirit during the winter.  But did you know that many famous Christmas carols have very un-Christmassy beginnings?

Carols were first sung in Europe thousands of years ago, but at the time they were not Christmas Carols.  They were songs that were sung to celebrate the Winter Solstice celebrations.  The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year and usually falls on Dec 22nd in the Northern Hemisphere.  The Winter Solstice was commonly celebrated in Europe hundreds of years ago before Christianity spread throughout Europe. These people held religious beliefs that centered on nature and the natural world. They celebrated the Winter Solstice with songs that celebrated the turning of the season and the longer, brighter days ahead. 

When Christianity spread throughout Europe, these carols began to change and became a mix of old songs with new Christian themes. Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus around the same timing as the Winter Solstice, so over time the winter celebrations in Europe came to celebrate both. Eventually old pagan carols were combined with new song lyrics celebrating the birth of Jesus. 

The tradition of singing songs to celebrate this time of year eventually became part of the winter church services celebrated by Christians.  In the year 129, a Roman Bishop said that a song called “Angel’s Hymn” should be sung at a Christmas service in Rome.  Another famous early Christmas song written for the Greek Orthodox Church in 760 was also sung at a Christmas service.  Soon after, many composers all over Europe started to write “Christmas Carols.”

At first, these new Christmas songs were not very popular, as they were all written and sung in Latin.  Latin was the language of the Romans and was used in church services, but it was a language that most regular people throughout Europe could not understand. During the Middle Ages, in the 1200s, Romans had been pushed back from their  positions of power throughout Europe and common people became less interested in Roman traditions.  Common European people stopped celebrating Christmas in church altogether and the tradition of singing songs to celebrate Christmas started to die out. 

This changed in 1223, when St. Francis of Assisi, a famous Italian Catholic preacher, started something new in Italy called a “Nativity Play”.  The play was performed in church at Christmas time and the people in the play sang songs or “canticles” that told the story of the birth of Jesus. The choruses of these new carols were sung in Latin, but St. Francis thought that the songs should be sung in the language that the people watching the play could understand and join in, so the songs’ versus were translated into a variety of European languages.  The new carols became popular and spread to France, Spain, Germany and other European countries. 

The earliest carol like this was written in 1410.  It was about Mary and Jesus meeting different people in Bethlehem.  Unfortunately, only a small part of the song still exists.  Traveling singers during the Middle Ages, or “Minstrels”, sang these carols as they traveled from town to town for money.  This helped the songs to become common and popular all throughout Europe.

Churches eventually started to hire official carol singers called “Waits” that worked for the church and spread Christian messages by singing these songs in public.  “Waits” were bands of singers led by important local political leaders.  They would go throughout town singing the songs around Christmas time and collecting money for the church.  The groups were called “Waits” because they only sang on Christmas Eve, which was sometimes known as “watchnight” or “waitnight” back then.  The name reflected that the shepherds in the story of Jesus were watching their sheep at night when angels appeared to them.  Watchnight or Waitnight was considered to be when Christmas celebrations would begin in Europe.  

In England, the popularity of Christianity grew from the Middle Ages in the 1200s to the Victorian period in the 1800s.  For over 600 years, English people participated in church services and set up orchestras and choirs.  People enjoyed the music of church services and particularly liked singing Christmas songs, so carols grew in popularity throughout this time.  New carol services were created in Church and became popular at Christmas. So did the custom of singing carols in the streets to spread the message of Christmas and collect money for the church.  

Some of the carols that were written during this time period were songs that were made out of traditional English folk songs with Christmas lyrics added to them.  

In 1880, Edward White Benson, who was a Bishop in the town of Truro in England, noticed that people were not coming to church as much as he felt they should.  In particular, at Christmas, people in Truro liked to celebrate on Christmas eve, but they didn’t come to church.  Instead they would gather in pubs and drink alcohol and dance and sing.  Bishop Benson, decided to try to lure everyone out of the pub and into church for a new Christmas service.  

Truro didn’t have a cathedral, but instead they just held church services in a large shed. Bishop Benson had to really think about how he could make a church service held there interesting enough to get the townspeople to attend.  Bishop Benson and his wife and children all liked to write.  In fact, Bishop Benson is thought to have written the longest diary that was ever written at the time!

Because of his desire to draw people into church and his love of writing, Bishop Benson and his family decided to write some of their own songs celebrating Christmas.  One of the reasons that people loved going to the pubs was because they would sing together there.  They would sing folk songs, or traditional songs passed down from one generation to the next.  And they would also do folk dances.  In fact, this is what the world “carol” meant at the time.  It meant “to dance in a circle. 

Bishop Benson and his family wrote some Christmas songs to be performed in church.  Because some of the songs are combinations of old folk tunes and Christmas traditions or religious images, some Christmas carols can seem kind of strange. For example, have you ever heard the song, “I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing”? The song doesn’t make a lot of sense when you think of the Christmas story.  Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, is a landlocked area.  This means there is no sea there on which ships could sail.  Some versions of the song involve Jesus on Christmas day in the morning.  But other versions involve three pretty girls on New Year’s Day.  It is likely that this song was originally a folk tune sung at pubs in England.  

The new version of Christmas church services became very popular.  People loved to come into church to be part of the singing and celebrating.  And the tradition of singing Christmas carols in church began to spread throughout the country. And Bishop Benson eventually became the Archbishop of Canterbury, which is the highest church position in the Church of England.

Let’s take a look at some specific Christmas carols and their history. 

The first is “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.”

In the 18th and 19th centuries, other people started to collect these folk songs and turn them into new songs. Over time the songs were edited and changed until they became some of the traditional Christmas songs we all know and love today.  For example, the co-founder of Methodism, Charles Wesley, wrote a carol that began:  Hark how all the welkin rings, Glory to the King of Kings, Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”  He put these lyrics to a Mendelsson tune and that is how the carol was sung for over 20 year.  Until another preacher changed the first line to Hark, the herald angels sing, Glory to the new-born King! This is the version most people know today.  The original song was not religious, but it slowly became a song celebrating the Christian story of Jesus’s birth.

Another famous Christmas carol is “Good King Wenceslas.”

While the song sings about a real person, his name was not actually Wenceslas but Vaclav and he was the Duke of Bohemia in the 10th Century.  Vaclav had a difficult childhood.  His dad died when he was young and he was brought up by his mom and a grandma. But the two women fought about what his religion should be. When he grew to be an adult, Vaclav chose to be Christian.  He started doing good for others and in particular, he would give to the poor.  But he would do this secretly at night by leaving things they needed on their doorsteps. He was particularly interested in giving to widows, orphans and people with disabilities. After Vaclav died, he was declared a saint and king by Otto the Great. The song followed 500 years later when an Englishman named John Mason Neale heard a tune he liked and put together the lyrics to the song we now know today.

“Jingle Bells,” is another Christmas carol that did not have a Christmassy start. Jingle Bells, which was written in America, was actually originally written about Thanksgiving.

In modern times, Christmas carols are popular throughout the world.  There are various forms of Christmas songs, including rock tunes and dance songs.  And almost every famous musician puts out an album of Christmas songs, putting their own flare on traditional tunes that everyone knows. 

People in England and other countries still enjoy the tradition of carolling.  In modern times, this tradition sees groups of people go door to door to sing for neighbours and spread Christmas cheer.  Some carolers also collect money for the poor.  

And the tradition of a carol service or nativity play in church is still quite popular.  Many churches around the world hold a special Christmas service in which the story of Jesus’s birth is re-enacted and the church-goers sing Christmas carols together.  If you have never been to one of these services, it is something to try one day.  Singing together in a group can be very fun and you will be part of history watching the service and knowing it’s traditional roots.

What are some of your favourite Christmas carols?  Have you ever thought about where these songs came from?  With an adult’s help, you can research online about the origins of your favourite songs.  Perhaps the song you look at had a different beginning than you realized.  Some Christmas songs are tunes that are written by very famous composers with new lyrics to go with them.  

We hope you enjoy getting into the holiday spirit this December with good music, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza or a different holiday depending on where you live and your background.  

The History of Thanksgiving For Kids

Imagine yourself sitting around a large bonfire.  The year is 1621 and you have spent the last year travelling from Europe to America on a boat. The journey was very hard.  When you finally arrived in the “new world” you faced a very hard winter. You and your family lived on the boat through the winter, together with other passengers.  It was extremely cold and there was not much to eat.  But all of that has changed.  As you sit waiting, you see that people are cooking up a huge feast. You smell the cooking meat and vegetables. it makes your mouth water. The cooks include people from Europe that you were on the boat with, and Native Americans who have come to celebrate with you.  It is the first Thanksgiving celebration in America, and you are ready to eat!

Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday in the United States and other countries. But how did this holiday begin?  Where did it start and why?

The story starts in 1620 when a small ship named the “Mayflower” left from England. On board were 102 passengers.  They were all people from different religions that were feeling unwelcome in Europe.  They wanted to leave to find a new home where they could practice their religion freely.  There were also people onboard who were excited about the idea of buying land, which they couldn’t afford in Europe. They hoped to find a new life and become wealthy in the New World.

The Mayflower made a long and difficult journey across the Atlantic Ocean that lasted 66 days! Eventually, they landed at Cape Cod.  This was much further north than where they were hoping to land, which was at the mouth of the Hudson River. One month later, the Mayflower travelled to Massachusetts Bay and the travellers disembarked, or arrived and came ashore.  They decided to settle, or make a home, in the area and they began building a village, which is now called Plymouth.

The people who started building the settlement were called “pilgrims”.  Pilgrim means a traveller or settler in a new land. The pilgrims in Plymouth did not have time to build houses to live in before the first winter came.  The winter was very cold and harsh, so most of the pilgrims remained on the Mayflower ship for the winter. They were hungry and cold living on the ship. Many people developed scurvy, which happens when you don’t eat enough fruits or vegetables.  Many also caught diseases that spread easily amongst the crowded living conditions. 

By the end of the winter, only half of the Mayflower’s 102 original passengers were still alive.That spring, in March 1621, the people who were still alive moved off the boat and onto shore to start building their homes. While they were settling on shore, an Abenaki Native American came and greeted them in English. Everyone was shocked to see that he was friendly and that he spoke English. 

A few days later, he returned with another Native American man named Squanto.  Years before Squanto had been kidnapped by Englishmen and brought to England.  But he later returned to America and could now speak English. Squanto became friends with the pilgrims and could see that they needed help.  The small group of 50 or so people were all weak and starving and many of them were ill.  Squanto felt bad for them so he taught the pilgrims how to grow corn, how to fish in the rivers and how to extract sap from maple trees. 

Squanto also helped the pilgrim settlers to form an alliance with a local Native tribe, the Wampanoag. An alliance is a bond or union between two groups that pledge to support each other. 

Later that year, in the fall of 1621, the pilgrims’s first corn harvest was successful.  They had an abundance of corn and were able to eat.  The Governor of the group, William Bradford, organized a feast to celebrate the harvest.  He invited all the pilgrims in the community and their Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. The feast lasted for three days.  While no one wrote down exactly what they ate, we do know that it was an amazing feast for the time, and likely included chicken, deer, corn, lobster, seal, shellfish, and possibly turkey. 

This fest is now remembered as America’s “first Thanksgiving”.  The pilgrim’s likely didn’t call it that, as they would not have known that this feast would turn into a holiday. They also played games and had fun during the three days with their guests.  They considered this celebration a way to give thanks to God and nature for the harvest and alliance with the Wampanoag people. 

The dishes that the pilgrims prepared were likely made using traditional Native American spices and cooking methods. The pilgrims did not have an oven and the sugar supply on the Mayflower had run out by the fall of 1621, so the meal did not include pies, cakes or desserts. But the people were happy to have a harvest meal and party and were happy that their nutrition and health had improved compared to last year — and mostly that they were still alive. That is a lot to be thankful for!

The pilgrims held their second Thanksgiving celebration in the fall of 1623. In the two years between, there had been a long drought.  A drought is a long period of time in which it doesn’t rain so everything dries up or doesn’t grow.  Because of the drought, there had been no harvest in the fall of 1622 and people were very hungry.  In 1623, the farming had been good again and they all celebrated as they had before. The practice of fasting, or not eating for a period of time, followed by having a large thanksgiving celebration started to become common practice in other New England settlements outside of Plymouth as well. 

Later, during the American Revolution, the government designated a couple of days of thanksgiving a year.  In 1789, George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation.In his speech, he asked Americans to show that they are grateful for the happy ending to the war of independence that Americans had just won and the new constitution, or written framework for the country’s rules, structure and order.  Other presidents after George Washington also designated a couple of days of thanksgiving to remember these events. 

In 1817, New York became the first state to have an official Thanksgiving holiday. After that, other states started adopting their own Thanksgiving holiday, with each one being celebrated on a different day. However, the tradition hadn’t spread to the south, and most southern states hadn’t heard of Thanksgiving holiday for a long time. 

One woman decided that she wanted to change this.  She wanted to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Her name was Sarah Josepha Hale.  She was a writer and wrote many articles and books and even wrote the song “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.   Sara started a campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday and she worked on this for 36 years!  A campaign is a planned effort to make something happen or change. She published articles in newspapers and sent letters to politicians.  Eventually her efforts paid off, when Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. He scheduled it to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November. Sara was then known ever after as the “Mother of Thanksgiving.”

Thanksgiving was celebrated annually, or once a year, on this day until 1939.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week in order to help stores make more money during the Great Depression. However, people didn’t like the change, and so he ultimately moved it back to the original date in 1941.

Although the original Thanksgiving celebrations were to celebrate the end of the American war of independence and the new constitution, modern American Thanksgiving is quite different.  Now the celebrations center on cooking a turkey and sharing a large meal with family and friends. 

While turkeys are the main dish at most American households for Thanksgiving, it may not have actually been on the menu for the pilgrims’ first thanksgiving feast in 1621. Today, more than 90% of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving.  And there are many different ways that people prepare the bird. Most like to cook it in the oven. But some people deep-fry it or smoke it, or find a variety of other ways to make the turkey dish new and interesting.

Other traditional food that Americans eat at this holiday include stuffing or dressing, mashed potatoes, yams, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.  These are all foods that are “in season” at that time of year.  “In season” means that the fruits and vegetables used are ready to be harvested at that time. 

Another common tradition at Thanksgiving is volunteering.  Many Americans spend Thanksgiving Day doing volunteer activities in their communities.  These activities include holding food drives to collect food for the poor or hosting free dinners for people who are struggling. 

Parades have also become an important part of the Thanksgiving holiday in cities and towns throughout the United States.  One of the largest and most famous is the Macy’s department store parade in New York City.  This parade started in 1924 and was intended to give businesses a chance to celebrate the holiday and advertise their store at the same time.  Today, many Americans tune in on TV to watch the Macy’s parade at Thanksgiving.  The parade follows a 2 ½ mile route and features marching bands, performers, floats and giant balloons.

Starting in the 1950s, the president of the United States has a transition of “pardoning” one or two Thanksgiving turkeys each year.  This means that those 1 or 2 birds don’t get killed to be eaten, but instead get to go back to living on a farm for the rest of their lives.

Even though Thanksgiving is a modern American tradition, there are similar annual celebrations of harvest that take place all over the world and throughout history. In ancient times, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all held large feasts to say thank you to their gods after the fall harvest.  Thanksgiving also has a lot in common with the ancient Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot. And Native Americans have a long tradition of celebrating fall harvest with feasts and parties. These traditions are older than the American thanksgiving in 1621, so may have had an influence on the idea to hold a feast. 

Does your family celebrate Thanksgiving?  If so, what are some of your family’s traditions?  When you eat your holiday meal this year, think about the first American thanksgiving at Plymouth.  How do you think that would have been different?  What are some of the things that you are thankful for this year?  However you plan to celebrate, we at Bedtime History wish you a very happy Thanksgiving!