Column: Recalling some old Christmas traditionsWORTHINGTON — Thirty years ago, I was assigned to research some of our great Christmas traditions that generally are overlooked by the newspapers. I produced a series to bring more cheer, as well as some diversion, to the Christmas celebration.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Thirty years ago, I was assigned to research some of our great Christmas traditions that generally are overlooked by the newspapers. I produced a series to bring more cheer, as well as some diversion, to the Christmas celebration. Following are two of the reports.
Kites of Christmas
“When did they first begin flying the kites of Christmas morning?” a child asked.
There are several stories told regarding the origins of this custom, which is especially popular through the American Middle West.
History tends to support the claim of Lyons, France, as the place where Christmas kites first appeared. The kites were an early-day version of Christmas advertising and of community public relations. ...
The custom of the kites of Christmas has endured and it is not puzzling why this is so. There is nothing that more certainly and more quickly establishes the joy and beauty of Christmas than the sight of dozens of brilliantly colored kites reflecting the dawn of Christmas morning while church bells peal in jubilation. There is no disappointment through the year that exceeds that of a stormy, gray Christmas when the kites cannot be launched.
Through recent years it is estimated there have been as many as 24 million kites aloft across the North American continent in that hour when the first rays of the late Christmas dawn appear on the eastern horizon. Among the oldest and most famous is the Christmas kite of St. Paul, Minnesota, the giant red and yellow kite that is launched from the ice of the Mississippi River by a crew of 16 and which lifts toward the alabaster dome of the state capitol.
The glorious kites of Christmas present, like the kites at Lyons six centuries ago, still proclaim to all who see them, “Christmas is observed at this place!”
The lie-abeds and those who choose to remain snug inside their houses on Christmas morning may want to glance out a window another time this Christmas dawn. If the sky is clear and the day is fair, the lovely kites of Christmas will be there.
“Trevor pantam,” one of the most beloved of all the Christmas carols, actually was written on a blistering day in a barren land where Christmas had been observed only in modern times and by a man who had never seen snow. This is a surprise to many who have assumed the carol’s poignant depiction of a chill Christmas dawn is the masterwork of a resident of the northlands.
Heinrich von Kellser was 22 years old in 1884 and a lifelong resident of what then was known as South West Africa — Namibia. Von Kellser’s father was a prosperous trader and importer who was able to provide well for his large family (five daughters and three sons) although they lived in a house which was away from the established settlements on a tract which now has become a desert. Within a week after his first child was born, the elder von Kellser purchased a piano. The children’s musically-talented mother, Marlene, provided piano instructions for each of her progeny.
“We each were required to practice for at least 45 minutes each day,” Heinrich von Kellser wrote in a 1947 autobiography. “There was seldom a waking hour when piano music was not heard in our home.”
Von Kellser’s Christmas masterpiece, he remembered, began to shape shortly after noon on a day in early August.
“The temperature had been above 100 degrees for many days,” von Kellser wrote. “There had been a windstorm. We could hardly breathe. Mamarlene, as we called our mother, began to reminisce about her childhood at Dusseldorf.”
Young von Kellser scribbled several notes and then began to pick out a melody on the family’s newest piano. “I actually began to feel cool,” he recalled.
Before the sun had set on that sweltering day more than a century ago, Heinrich von Kellser had completed both the lilting melody and the precious words of his masterpiece carol, the mystical and ingenious marriage of Nordic and Mid-Eastern expression which all the world sings today:
Trevor pantam, sol yuel’n weiss,
Tan festum late un gerrun siess,
Toel ooo. Machtum shlaf
Toel ooo. Machtum shlaf
Infantum zu termellen yetst!
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.