Making a joyous sound on Waitnight
The director of Chiltern Open Air Museum, Sue Shave, writes about some of our Christmas traditions and how they originated
SCHRISTMAS starts to dominate our calendar, have you ever wondered how the traditions all started? Do you know why carol singers go house to house, for instance, or where the expression ‘eating humble pie’ comes from?
Chiltern Open Air Museum’s historic buildings provide a backdrop to the story of past traditions and how they came about.
Carol services may well have been conducted in the Victorian Mission Room from Henton, a tin chapel or prefabricated building. This iconic exhibit is actually made from corrugated iron panels not tin and a visiting pastor held monthly services there.
Carols have been sung for thousands of years with beginnings in pagan music – the word ‘carol’ means praise or celebration. In the medieval period, carols were used as part of Christian church services and later translated into vernacular language so that people could understand them. Carols were only sung in public then by the local dignitaries with the authority to take money from people. This was done solely on Christmas Eve or Waitnight, referring to the shepherds watching over their sheep.
However, the mixed reputation of carol singers today is also reflected in the past, as many were thrown out of churches for disrupting the services, as they took their carolling literally, singing and dancing in circles!
Later, during Victorian times, public singing of carols and carol services became very popular and many new carols were composed, such as Silent Night and Good King Wenceslas.
Most people have heard of the expression ‘to eat humble pie’, used when someone is humiliated or is forced to make a public apology.
Humble pie was in fact a pie, made using the innards or ‘pluck’ of a game animal such as deer, including heart, liver, tongue, feet, ears and brains – called the umbles. It is thought that this food was eaten by the lower classes but there is little evidence of this. Some historic commentators refer to excellent meals in their journals, such as Samuel Pepys in his diary of 1662: “Having some venison given me…
had the shoulder roasted and the umbles baked in a pie.”
So this year, please will you consider leaving your ‘umbles’ to the
Imuseum and making a donation of £50 to help us keep history alive. This year the average amount each household is expected to spend on Christmas is £822. It costs us about £1,000 a day to run the museum so any gift you can make to us will make a huge difference. You can make a donation by cheque sent to the museum director at the museum address (Newland Park, Gorelands Lane, Chalfont St Giles, HP8 4AB) or email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out about other ways of giving.
If you are stuck for Christmas present ideas, why not think about buying an annual pass for your loved ones to give them the gift of unlimited visits to the museum during the open season in 2015, including all the fantastic events. Or buy a unique Experience Day blacksmithing in the forge, working with heavy horses, or baking with our historic cook. Email email@example.com to make a booking or purchase a pass.
Merry Christmas everyone!
The Henton tin chapel may well have hosted carol singers during its past