Friday, December 14, 2007

More Spurious Holyday Song Histories

Two of the popular Christmas songs that are especially found issuing from the mouths of children actually started as competitive advertising campaign jingles.

Sometime during the late 1800s, in the Central American village of San Migueles, scientists uncovered a folk recipe for an especially powerful cleaning solution. Long held a secret, its main chemical component was an extract of the poinsettia plant. Perhaps the flower's association with the holydays is what caused the resulting ad jingle to become a Christmas carol.

One unscrupulous scientist returned to his home in Scotland, and began creating his own cleaning solvent industry based on the San Migueles recipe. For some reason, his solution game out very thick, and so he called his gelatinous mixture "Jelly of St McGillis."

Young boys were hired to stand on the street corners and hawk the stuff. And so arose the song:

The Jelly of St McGillis.
Clean your house it may.
Wash the spots from your mink stole,
Makes stains go away!

Christmas Eve is coming soon.
Listen, My Good Man!
Buy a jar of St McGill's:
Best stuff in the land!

Take the rust spots off your skates,
Blight spots from off your holly*
The Jelly's even safe enough
To wash your muddy collie!

It's got a thousand uses
In your home and in your shop!
Buy a jar for each of them--
At just 12 pence a pop!

These claims, naturally, stirred up envy among other cleaner producers. One such company was Professor Pinksure's Tincture ("Is it pink?" "Sure!" "Then it's Tincture!") Hitting upon the idea for a smear campaign of "St Mick's" Jelly, he composed this tune to be sung by his salesboys:

Up at your household, what's the cause,
Of ruinin' all of your nice wood floors?
What takes the paint off your children's toys?
's'just the beginnin' of your Jelly joys!

Oh! Oh! Oh! The stains do go.
It ruins all your stuff also!
At 12 pence a pint, it's an evil trick!
Don't buy the Jelly of ol' St Mick!

Later on, these songs evolved into the well-loved "Jolly Old St Nicholas" and "Up on the Housetop." No one thinks of detergent when they sing them now.

*This, of course, refers to the great holly blight of 1902, which speckled holly leaves and berries, making them unseemly for Christmas household decoration.

--excerpted from Do you Hear What I Hear? The Stories
Behind Our Beloved Christmas Carols
, by Allen S. Brain

More spurious song histories here.

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