New Christmas

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NEW CHRISTMAS. AKA - "New Christenmiss Day." AKA and see "The Bass Reel." Scottish, English; Reel. England, Northumberland. G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Surenne): AAB (Gow, MacDonald, Seattle). John Glen (1891) finds the earliest printing of this tune in Robert Bremner's 1757 Scots Reels (p. 91), though it also appears early in the (James) Gillespie Manuscript of Perth (1768, p. 102). Gow's alternate title, "The Bass Reel" is simply descriptive of the last four measures of the second strain, played on the 'G' (bass) string of the violin.

At the time Bremner compiled his publication, Christmas was indeed a relatively 'new Christmas' due to the fact that the day of its celebration had been very recently changed. Since Roman times calendars had been calculated on the Julian system, an improvement over previous calendar schemes, but one that resulted in an over-estimation of the year by over eleven minutes per annum. By the 16th century this meant that the Julian calendar was some ten days ahead of time, and a reform was mandated by Pope Gregory XIII. The new calendar (which bears his name, the Gregorian calendar) corrected the problem going forward, but to bring things into line Gregory decreed that ten days would be deleted from the year when it was first adopted. Most Europeans embraced the change, but Reformation England did not want to be dictated to by a Catholic pontiff, and the Julian calendar remained in effect in that country. This state of affairs (e.g. with the date in Paris being ten days behind that of London) lasted for over a century and a half, until at last Parliament agreed to adopt the Georgian system. In 1752 the change occurred throughout Britain, with September 2nd followed by September 14th. This was the cause of consternation for many, who thought they had been robbed of ten days of life with the change. The full adjustment, particularly for holiday celebrations, took years, with both 'Old' and 'New' Christmas days coexisting for some time. In fact, Old Christmas day was imported to the Americas by Scots-Irish and northern English immigrants, and survived in the Upland South into the 20th century.

Source for notated version: William Vickers' 1770 music manuscript collection [1] (Northumberland, p. 69) [Seattle], as "New Christenmiss Day".

Printed sources: Bremner (Scots Reels), c. 1757; p. 91. Carlin (Gow Collection), 1986; No. 457. Gow (Complete Repository), Part 2, 1802; p. 16. MacDonald (The Skye Collection), 1887; p. 82. Seattle (Great Northern/William Vickers), 1987, Part 2; No. 259. Surenne (Dance Music of Scotland), 1852; p. 28. Wilson (Companion to the Ball Room), 1816; p. 50

Recorded sources:




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