Merry Christmas to all our readers! Over the last 24 days we’ve posted a daily Christmas fact about some aspect of literature, and now we’re gathering together all of these Christmas literary facts into one bumper blog post. So, if you missed some or all of our advent calendar posts, you can now read them all in this collected ‘omnibus’ post. We hope you enjoy them. Ho ho ho!
1. The first Christmas cards were sent in 1843, the same year as Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol was published. They were designed by London artist John Calcott Horsley. Of the original 1,000 cards that were printed, only 12 are still in existence – nobody seems to have foreseen the longevity of the Christmas card-giving tradition, so few of them were preserved. Robins on Christmas cards are, in fact, a little Victorian joke: Victorian postmen were nicknamed robins because of their red uniforms, so if you sent a Christmas card through the post, the robin on the front of the card was a nice little reference to the fact that it was being ‘delivered by a robin’. For more on this, read the full post here. Read the rest of this entry
And so this is it – we have almost come to the end of our literary advent calendar! But before we depart and leave you to your mulled wine and mince pies, there’s just time for one more special Christmas Eve-themed fact.
The recent Paddington film has come out in cinemas in time for Christmas, which is quite fitting given the origins of this beloved character from children’s literature. He was created by Michael Bond, but how Bond happened upon the real-life teddy bear that inspired the character is a heartwarming Christmas tale.
Bond bought ‘Paddington Bear’ in 1956. He felt sad for the teddy bear as it was the only toy left on the shop’s shelves on Christmas Eve. Bond named the bear Paddington as he was living near the famous railway station in London at the time.
Image: The Paddington Bear statue at London Paddington railway station (author: Matt Buck), Wikimedia Commons.
Staying in the seventeenth century, where we found ourselves for yesterday’s advent calendar fact, we’re off to hear another Christmas carol today. Not a bad way to spend Christmas Eve Eve, after all! The Christmas carol we’re concerned with on this penultimate day of our Advent Calendar posts is one of the classics, which has an interesting connection with poetry.
‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks’ is a popular carol and has been for over three hundred years. But what is not widely known is that the words to the carol were written by an early Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom.
Nahum Tate (1652-1715 – he was born Nahum Teate) held the post of Poet Laureate between 1692 and his death. Tate was Irish and moved to London in his twenties, quickly becoming known as a dramatist and poet. Tate was the man who rewrote Shakespeare’s King Lear to give it a happy ending: he omitted the character of the Fool altogether and ended the play with the marriage of Edgar and Cordelia. He also collaborated with John Dryden (who was an earlier holder of the Laureateship, until his Catholicism put an end to his tenure) on the second half of Dryden’s long poem Absalom and Achitophel. Tate also wrote the words to Henry Purcell’s famous opera Dido and Aeneas. Not a bad crop of achievements there, but Tate remains one of the least-known (and least-read) Poets Laureate.
And tomorrow, we come to the end of our literary advent calendar. Each fact until now has shared something with the previous day’s fact, but tomorrow’s – being the conclusion of the calendar – is a special standalone fact that relates specifically to Christmas Eve. We hope you’ll join us for that tomorrow. Ho ho ho!
Image: ‘Song of the Angels at the Nativity of our Blessed Saviour’, better known as ‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks’, from A New version of the Psalms of David : fitted to the tunes used in churches, Wikimedia Commons.