“Jolly Old Saint Nicholas, lean your ear this way…” Boy, I bet we all wished as kids that Saint Nicholas would just tell us what we were getting for Christmas, didn’t we? Maybe not every present, but a few of those things we really, really hoped we would get. Sometimes the suspense was too much, and we needed someone else to tell us what was coming!
Emily Huntington Miller must have felt that joyful anticipation of Christmas just like we do – she wrote the original poem in 1865, called “Lilly’s Secret” when it was first published. Or maybe it was Benjamin Hanby who gave this Christmas song its lyrics; he wrote “Up on the Housetop”! Or maybe it was even John Piersol McCaskey, a song editor and publisher. The children’s names in the song match some of his own children!
What we know for sure, whether it came from Emily or Benjamin or John, is that the first time “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” was printed with the musical tune we know today was in 1874 by James R. Murray, a prolific author of songbooks and little ditties that stick in your head long after you’ve listened to them.
Now, I’m sure most of us know how this carol starts, but do you remember the end of the song? After a whole song of asking the jolly saint to tell us about what we’re getting for Christmas, the narrator says: “Now I think I’ll leave to you what to give the rest / Choose for me, dear Santa Claus, what you think is best.”
How about that! Even after all of the anticipation of what could be coming this Christmas, the narrator ultimately tells Santa “whatever you think is best, I will be very happy.”
Let’s do that with each other this Christmas! Whatever you’re given from your mom or dad, grandma or grandpa, or third cousin twice-removed, take this joyful sentiment and have gratitude for whatever you receive. It’s not every day other people find gifts for us!
Now, on this feast of Saint Nicholas, listen to “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” sung by the Willows Academy choir: