Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Two Corrections and a Word About Caroling

By way of corrections on two recent columns: When I wrote the review of The Mountains of Yesteryear, the book by Ruby Lee Sargent Miles about her grandparents, Jefferson Beauregard Dyer and Rhoda Jane Souther Dyer, edited by her son, Ronald Eugene Miles, I erroneously credited words from the back cover of the book to poet John G. Neihardt. A quatrain from the poet was, indeed, printed as the last of the “Afterword,” but the cover message itself was written by Ronald Eugene Miles himself. I especially liked the portion I quoted because it mentions “Mountain Mists.” The long-time, over-riding title of this column by yours truly, is “Through Mountain Mists.” Therefore, what Ron Miles wrote struck a responsive chord with me.

I quote again, and this time, correctly credit the words to Mr. Miles: “This story will not turn back the hands (digits?) of time, but it does advocate lessons the earth still has to teach us. And when mists lift off the mountains, is there a more fulfilling refreshment than a long draught of pure, cool spring water bubbling from the Giving Earth?” Thanks, Ron Miles, for these thought-provoking words.

And now to the second error: In my column in last week’s Union Sentinel, my tribute to my beloved departed brother Bluford Marion Dyer, I had him correctly graduating with the Class of 1951 from Union County High School. But I incorrectly wrote that this class was the first to graduate from the newly-added twelfth grade. Readers would think I would know that it was 1952 when the first twelfth grade class graduated! Thanks, readers, for setting me straight on this point. Now I can remember Bluford saying, “By one year, I missed the twelfth grade!” What I didn’t say about Bluford in that column was that mathematics was always his love among subjects (as well as reading). At Truett McConnell College, where he was manager of the college farm, he also was assigned as a tutor for those deficient in math. He helped several fellow students get through that required subject of college algebra.

Now with “corrections” made, let us move on to the second subject of this column, Christmas caroling.

I don’t know how widespread the custom of Christmas caroling in shopping malls and outside homes is today in our culture. A war rages against any mention of “Christmas” that might offend the general populace. I, for one, will welcome any carolers that appear at our door with their jubilant songs of Christmas. This is even more important to us now that my husband is a shut-in. I remember many Christmases past when he was a pastor and I personally led our church children and youth in carol sings about our communities to homes of the elderly and shut-ins. The carolers were blessed and so were the people to whom we sang. This act of love was an important part of the Christmas celebration.

Just what is a carol and when did the custom of carol singing originate? Simply defined, a carol is “a song of praise, especially in honor of the Nativity” (Webster). Seeking the carol’s origins is more difficult. The word carol carries the significance of “a round dance” or a “ring dance.” But in historical perspective, more emphasis was placed on the words the dancers sang than on the exuberant, joyful, lilt of the dancers. Did this happen inside sedate cathedrals? Hardly. With a folk-song quality, these songs went on outside the churches, with wandering minstrels and groups of musicians celebrating the Christmas season (and other religious days) with carols, noels, lullabies and hymns.

St. Francis of Assissi who was priest at the little church at Grecchio in central Italy in 1223 wanted a more vivid way than usual to portray the Christmas story. We have read of St. Francis’s love of nature, his reverence for every animal, bird, beast, flower. At that long-ago Christmas, he arranged to have a manger scene in a cave near his church. With borrowed farm animals keeping watch, and with a statue of the Christ Child in the manger bed, St. Francis started the tradition of the Nativity scene at Christmas. It was immensely popular with his congregation and with the whole village.

This tradition soon spread, and soon throughout Italy and France Nativity scenes became a recognized and popular part of the Christmas celebration.

How we thrill to the words of the carol, “Bring a torch, Jeanette, Isabella!/Bring a torch to the cradle run!” With lighted candles, people joined the village processions to the manger scene, singing the lilting words of this carol which had its origin in France.

St. Francis loved the simple religious songs of the people. Instead of being stilted and formal, he asked his congregation to mix singing with his preaching. He is attributed as saying: “For what are the servants of God if not his minstrels, who ought to stir and incite the hearts of men to spiritual joy?” (William J. Reynolds, Christ and the Carols, Broadman, 1967, p. 17).

Christmas is about the birth of Christ, and spreading spiritual joy through “songs and hymns and spiritual songs.” It is about helping our fellow men, extending the hand of giving to anyone we meet. “In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas.” Let us absorb the spirit, join in the carols, spread as much cheer as we can. We often say, “Christmas comes but once a year!” But actually, every day of the year can bear the spirit of Christmas. What better New Year’s resolution could we make than to produce our own carols and the feeling of good will they bear—all year long? Carols have no evidence of pretense, no pseudo-sophistication, no upper-class snobbery. Neither should we, in our daily walk. A merry Christmas to all!

c 2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Dec. 14, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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