Monday, December 30, 2013

Celebrating Sophia's 13th Birthday

Sophia turned 13 years old on Monday. To start the day, I blew up 13 pink and purple balloons and attached notes to each one. The notes listed one positive quality or observation about Sophia.

The balloons with notes ready held in place with crepe paper.

The idea was a combination of two different things I saw on Pinterest.

Ready for Sophia to open the door.

One was for a balloon avalanche when someone opened the door and the other was of blessing balloons.

Olivia and Cooper waiting for Sophia.

I gave her the opportunity to open them privately so she could read them and not have us all watching her reaction. Sometimes personal messages like these are good to read privately...or at least I think so.

Sophia reading the notes attached to the balloons.

This is what the 13 notes said:
=> You have a great sense of humor and make people laugh!
=> You are respectful towards others - especially those who are older than you!
=> You are compassionate and caring towards the animals!
=> You are talented musically. It's a joy to listen to you play the harp, piano, and violin!
=> It's fun to see how much younger children - especially your cousins - love to play with you! You are very good with children!
=> You are a great reader, and it's nice to see you love to read as much as you do!
=> Your self-confidence is inspiring to see!
=> You think of others and willingly share your time and talents!
=> You are a good listener!
=> You are smart and motivated to learn new things!
=> You are creative and do such beautiful work with jewelry and ceramics!
=>You are determined and goal-oriented!
=> You bring so much joy and love to everyone who knows you! You are a true blessing, and we are so fortunate that you are our daughter and sister!

For breakfast, at Sophia's request, I made maple twists. This is similar to a recipe that I remember from childhood. It is from Taste of Home and equally as good.

Maple Twist that I made.


3-1/4 to 3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
2 eggs
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter, softened
3 tablespoons maple syrup
4-1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon maple flavoring
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon maple flavoring
2 to 3 teaspoons milk


In a large bowl, combine 1-1/2 cups flour, sugar, salt and yeast. In a saucepan, heat milk and butter to 120°-130°. Add to dry ingredients; beat just until moistened. Add eggs; beat on medium for 2 minutes. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a firm dough. Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 5-7 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 70 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the first seven filling ingredients; beat for 2 minutes. Punch dough down; turn onto a lightly floured surface. Divide in half; roll each into a 16-in. x 8-in. rectangle. Spread filling to within 1/2 in. of edges. Sprinkle with nuts. Roll up jelly-roll style, starting with a long side.
With a sharp knife, cut each roll in half lengthwise. Open halves so cut side is up; gently twist ropes together. Transfer to two greased 9-in. round baking pans. Coil into a circle. Tuck ends under; pinch to seal. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes.

Bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool for 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Combine the confectioners' sugar, maple flavoring and enough milk to achieve desired consistency; drizzle over warm cakes. Yield: 2 coffee cakes.

Nutritional Facts

1 serving (1 slice) equals 119 calories, 4 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 21 mg cholesterol, 144 mg sodium, 19 g carbohydrate, trace fiber, 2 g protein.

After breakfast, Sophia opened presents #1-7.

13 gifts on Sophia's 13th birthday.

Each contained some money so she had something to spend when she was at Mall of America.

Ready to open the gifts and have breakfast.

Needless to say, she was very happy that she could use it to buy some new clothes, and donate the ones that no longer fit.

Sophia ready to go shopping.

We then headed to Mall of America...along with thousands of other people who braved the frigidly cold temperatures and slick roads.

The girls on the swing ride at the Mall of America.

The lines for the rides were very long, so we couldn't go on as many rides as Sophia had hoped to do.

Going up on the ride at the Mall of America.

Nonetheless, the ones that we did go one were a lot of fun.

The roller coaster. We're to the far right in the picture.

We especially enjoyed the long roller coaster ride that took us throughout the entire ride area at the mall.

We stopped at the library on the way home, and then rested a bit before dinner.

Birthday dinner: vegetarian pizza with cheese bread.

Dinner was from the local pizza place, followed by an ice cream cake. The recipe is from the Five in a Row cookbook that Olivia used last year when she was reading the books in the Five in a Row series. There are quite a few good recipes that we continue to make from that cookbook.

Blowing out the candles on the ice cream cake.

It's hard to believe that Sophia is already 13 years old. How the time has gone by all too quickly...from the time she was adopted as an 11-month old baby to now. I continue to be so grateful that I can homeschool her and Olivia so I can see all these wonderful years and milestones.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Rosemary-Mustard Sausage Patties

A couple of years ago I clipped a recipe for Rosemary-Mustard Sausage Patties from Taste of Home magazine. This year, I wanted to make them for Christmas breakfast. However, we ran out of propane on Christmas morning, so I postponed making them until the 26th of December.

They are very easy to make and so flavorful. I was a bit concerned with adding two full onions to two pounds of pork sausage, but it was delicious.

Rosemary-Mustard Sausage Patties that I made.


2 medium onions, finely chopped
4 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary or 3/4 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed (I used about 4 teaspoons of fresh rosemary)
4 teaspoons stone-ground mustard (I used a spicy brown mustard)
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 pounds bulk pork sausage


In a large skillet, saute onions in oil until tender. Add rosemary; cook 1 minute longer. Transfer to a large bowl; stir in mustard and pepper. Crumble sausage over mixture; mix well. Shape mixture by 1/4 cupfuls into thin patties. (Note: I made mine much smaller - about half that size so there were about 32 sausage patties.)

Place in ungreased 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pans. Bake at 375° for 12-15 minutes or until meat is no longer pink. Drain if necessary on paper towels. Yield: 16 sausage patties.

Nutritional Facts

1 sausage patty equals: 134 calories, 12 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 21 mg cholesterol, 259 mg sodium, 3 g carbohydrate, trace fiber, 4 g protein.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Celebrating Christmas Day! - Countdown to Christmas - Day 25

This is the final day of the Countdown to Christmas as we celebrate Christmas Day.


The day started with letting the dogs outside and feeding them.

Cooper with a beard full of snow.

I noticed that the home was feeling rather chilly. Checked the thermostat. What should have been 68 degrees in the house...was only 61 degrees. Thought maybe it was just because it was cold and windy outside.

Went upstairs and read for a bit until Olivia got up. First thing she did was check the roof to see if there were any carrots and oats left. Nope...they were gone. That was a good sign to her.

As we do each year, she and I opened our Christmas stockings together.

Olivia opening one of the gifts that was in her stocking.

Santa tends to put things in his sock that I normally do not buy the girls, but that they enjoy: root beer and spam. He also puts practical things in the stockings (e.g., toothbrush, toothpaste).

Sophia with something she enjoys eating - Spam.
Only Santa would bring her something like this.

Olivia took a look at the tree and presents as well as the stockings on the glass table and piano.

Lucy in front of the tree - 
ready to open some presents.

By 7:30 a.m., the temperature was still cool in the house and not rising. Put on the electric heater. Cut up two onions to make a sausages. Put the stove burner on. Very little flames were coming out what would normally be much higher flames.

At that point, I knew the propane was out. It was operating on fumes. To make a long story short, this year we haven't started burning wood in the wood stove. So, the calculations for the automatic refill program are not accurate. Because we have always been on automatic refill, I never have gone out to check on the tank to see how much propane in it.

So, the propane delivery man, Kevin, said that he could make a delivery around 10:00 a.m. In the meantime, there was no heat in the house, no stove or oven use, or hot water.

The house was at 61 degrees for most of Christmas morning.
A bit chilly for our liking.

So, the girls read their responses from Santa. This year, he wrote in red and green marker right on the letters they left.

Santa wrote back to the girls on the letters that they wrote to him.

We sat by tree and wrapped ourselves in blankets to stay warm.

Olivia wrapped in a blanket to stay warm.

We opened the gifts that Santa left for the pets. They are rather practical gifts: new litter boxes for the cats; cat, dog, and horse treats; and a new igloo for the hedgehog since he has outgrown his old one.

The pets' stockings with gifts either in or below them.

The dogs liked their new toys and treats. Cooper also got a new collar since the one he had was getting a bit too small for him. He also got a harness so he doesn't pull as much on walks. It also will relieve some of the pressure on his neck.

Montague with his new toy.
Cooper also got one...but has his eye on that orange pretzel.

I had made three-chocolate fudge and sugar cookies on Christmas Eve. This morning, I added the antlers, eyes, and noses. They didn't turn out as perfect as the pin I saw on Pinterest, but they were good cookies.

Reindeer cookies that I made.

Once the propane was delivered and the appliances checked for leaks, it was time to head over to my Mom's home...even though she was in the hospital. Since I didn't have time to cook anything for breakfast because of no propane to the stove or oven, we stopped at Kwik Trip.

Needless to say, this was a memorable holiday meal. It was quite different than anticipated.

Some food for Christmas breakfast. 
Without propane at home, the cooking options were very limited.

I dropped off the gifts at my Mom's home while everyone else stayed to spend time with their cousins, uncle, and aunt. They went ahead and opened stockings and gifts as well as had their Christmas dinner while my brother (Jim) and I went to visit my Mom in the hospital.

Mom with presents on her bed at the hospital.

She is doing so much better than she was on Friday when Olivia and I saw her, and she had just had the severe allergic reaction to a medication. Despite the swelling go down a lot on her throat, tongue, mouth, and lips...she still has some recovery that she needs to do in terms of strength-building in her legs.

She also had a serious drop in her blood sugar in the morning - down to only 44. The lowest she has ever been was 39 and that was near-death.

Mom opening a present.

We spent about an hour with her while she ate some lunch and opened some presents we brought for her. By that time, she was getting tired and needed to rest.

She is scheduled for both occupational therapy and physical therapy tomorrow morning before she is transported to the nursing home in the afternoon for transitional care. Most likely, OT and PT will want to see her as well in the afternoon at the nursing home, so she'll have a full and exhausting day.

After getting some things for my Mom to bring to the nursing home, it was time for us to head back home.

In some ways, this reminds me of Christmas 2011 when my Dad was in the nursing home. It was a rather disjointed holiday then...and it certainly felt this way again for me this year. The girls, though, were having a lot of fun playing with their cousins and certainly could have spent much more time there had we not had to get back for the dogs.

Sophia opening one of her presents.

When we returned home, we all rested a bit in the afternoon before opening the rest of the presents that were from one another as well as Santa.

We had a light snack before we relaxed in the evening. All in all, it was a very nice Christmas. We have many wonderful (and interesting) memories to look back upon not only today, but during the entire month of December as we counted down to this special day.


Christmas Joke 

What is the purpose of reindeer?

Lots of Flowers
Wild irises growing among the grass in the pasture.

(It makes the grass grow, sweetie.)


Christmas Fact

We learned what Christmas would have been like for pioneers in Minnesota. Where we live, the area was founded by Swedish immigrants. So, I found some information about early pioneer life around Christmas on Nordsjernan:

Girls by Immigrant Hus at Gammelgarden
Girls by Immigrant Hus at Gammelgarden on April 30, 2008.

"The Swedish pioneers gave up their language and culture, and their feeling of belonging in order to enjoy the social mobility, political freedom and prosperity of America. But they missed their homeland and its many happy traditions.

"The longing for everything they had left behind was particularly intense at Christmas; after all, it's the senses of smell and taste that have the strongest emotional grip on memories: They ached for cardamom, saffron, cinnamon, pine, ham and candles. But in every wound there is a healing, and in the Swedish-American church, the pioneers were both Swedish and American, speaking their language, singing their hymns, and celebrating a traditional Christmas.

Lucia Buns for St. Lucia Day
Lucia Buns we made in 2011. They are flavored with cardamom.

"Stella Halsten Hohncke describes Christmas in their home on the banks of the Maple River:
'Another Old Country custom was the ringing of the church bell at 5 o’clock on Christmas Eve. That started Christmas. The people listened to hear it ... and they pause to hear in their memory the sound of the Christmas bell ... Christmas Eve was a very special time.

'Lutefisk was not on the market as a commercial product. In those days a fish was purchased at the store. Then a washtub was filled with water; ashes from the stove were added. This created a lye and the fish was soaked in this solution for three weeks. This involved frequent changes of water and ashes.

Antique Play Stove
Antique Play Stove at Gammelgarden.

'The menu on Christmas Eve also included meatballs plus mashed potatoes, vegetables of some kind and boiled rice. There would also be a treat, a glass of homemade wine made from the juice of wild grapes that grew in the woods ... Then Father would bring out his book of sermons and we would sit and listen to a sermon which did seem so long. But eventually, we could light the candles on the Christmas tree and there might even be a gift. The candles were real ones and no one thought about any danger from fire.'

"The heart of the Christmas celebration in the Swedish settlements was the Julotta service early on Christmas Day. Many Swedish pioneers scattered across the forests and plains of Minnesota and North Dakota made great sacrifices to arrange and attend a Julotta.

"Stella recounts: 'There was always a 6 o’clock service on Christmas morning. To prepare for the service, Father, the sexton of the parish, would get up at 3 o’clock, walk across the frozen fields to reach the church and replenish the fire in the big sheet iron stove. Then at 5 o’clock the bell pealed to awaken the people for the Christmas service. I think Father received a salary of $25 a year but his was truly a service of love.'”


In 1890, when our home was built, I found this description of food that would have comprised the Christmas day meals:

Christmas Day, It has been our custom, as well as the custom of other household writers, to devote much time to Christmas dinners, their bills of fare and preparations, entirely losing sight of the fact that most people eat three times a day on Christmas, as well as on other days of the year, so in this article we will give three bills of fare.

Let the breakfast be simple, plain and nutritious, served early, as on this morning the children of the house usually arise early, and a late breakfast makes too short a space before the heavy dinner, and the children, in consequence, suffer for perhaps a week to come from indigestion, cause by cramping, and, by the way, I think as a rule Christmas dinners are too heavy to be thoroughly enjoyed and digested.

We are living in the days of civilization and refinement, and not in the days of King Richard II, at whose table thirty courses were served at a Christmas dinner and it is said that the fragments that remained were more than sufficient to serve a thousand persons.

Of course, great numbers were invited; but imagine the waste and the heavy laden table with such a quantity of left over. The feast given in Westminster Hall, in 1399, was such a large and coarse affair, that twenty-six oxen, three hundred sheep, besides fowls without number, were put upon the table and consumed.

Breakfast, at 8 o'clock Fruits, Breaded Chops, Tomato Sauce, Baked Potatoes, Buckwheat Cakes, Maple Syrup, Coffee.

- Dinner at 2 o'clock Oysters on Half Shell, Almond Milk Soup with Rice, Salted Almonds, Celery, Olives, Halibut baked with fine Herbs, English Drawn Butter, Persian Potatoes, Roast Trukey, Cranberry Sauce, Rice Croquettes, Asparagus Tips, Braised Duck, Baked Macaroni, Lettuce Salad, Wafers, Brie, English Plum Pudding, Brandy Sauce, Coffee, Nuts, Fruits, Sugar Plums.

- Supper, at 8 o'clock Raw Oysters, Chicken Sandwiches, Coffee, Jelly, Cake."

~Table Talk, December 1890 (p. 459)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Preparing for Christmas - Countdown to Christmas - Day 24

It's almost Christmas! This is what we did today:


We went to Christmas Eve service at 3:00 p.m.; and both girls sang in the children's choir. Normally we look at Christmas lights afterwards, but it was still light outside so we went home.

The girls singing in the children's choir on Christmas Eve.

Had dinner: pork roast with a cranberry sauce that was made in the crockpot, mashed potatoes, dressing, and fresh mandarin oranges.

The pot roast was so tender that it fell apart 
as it was transferred to the serving bowl.

During the day, I made a cranberry salsa like I do each year. It's one of my favorite appetizers. This year, rather than serving it on chips, we used a multi-grain cracker.

Cranberry salsa with a granny smith apple, red onion, and cilantro.

After dinner, we each opened two presents.

Sophia and Olivia in front of the Christmas tree.

When I was growing up, we never opened gifts on Christmas Eve. This is something that we started in our family.
Olivia opening one of her gifts on Christmas Eve.

Olivia recently lost a tooth and she's been holding it in her tooth container until Christmas Eve so that her tooth fairy (Flossie) and Santa could see one another. Flossie has a plate of food and seating area as does Santa across the table from her.

A chair, table, plate with food, cups with water, a couch to relax on, and 
Olivia's tooth - all ready for a visit from her tooth fairy, Flossie.

I put some treats for Santa on the table.

Plate of food that I left for Santa.

Sophia was sorely disappointed with my meager plate of food for Santa, so she replaced the plate after I went to bed with a much larger one and a wider selection of cookies: 2 Scottish shortbread cookies, caramel corn, and a frosted sugar cookie with sprinkles.

Sophia's plate of food and water that she left for Santa.
The letters from the girls to Santa are next to his placemat.

She even decorated the plate with sugar sprinkles to make it look a bit more special. She set out the glass of water and then blocked the dining  room off so the dogs couldn't eat Santa's treats.

Olivia put carrots out on the roof for Santa's reindeer. This was Cooper's first Christmas, so he was particularly interested in watching what was going on.

Cooper watching as Olivia put carrots on the roof.

As with the cookies, Sophia wasn't satisfied with what was put out for the reindeer. So, she put together a big plate of oats and red sprinkles on the roof next to Olivia's carrots.

It's interesting to see how important some traditions are to the girls. This is something that we've done for years...ever since they were small. Not doing it - even when Sophia is 12 years old - is a big deal. Some traditions continue...because that's how it has always been done and it's important to have that sense of rhythm and tradition in one's life.

Sophia's letter to Santa.

The girls wrote long letters to Santa. Olivia dictated what she wanted to say to Sophia and Sophia wrote it for her.

Olivia's letter to Santa.

We checked the computer and saw where Santa was on his journey at

Checking to see where Santa was in the world.

We learned where a couple new places were off of South America, and then were pleasantly surprised to see places that we had traveled to many years ago to visit foreign exchange students: Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The girls went to bed early so Santa and the reindeer didn't fly over our home!


Advent Reading

Matthew 1:22 -“A virgin will become pregnant and have a son, and he will be called Immanuel” (which means, “God is with us”).


Christmas Joke

What king is the children's favorite at Christmas time? (A stocking!)


Christmas Fact

We learned about the Wise Men who came to visit Jesus. The following facts are from Wikipedia:

Traditions identify a variety of different names for the Magi. In the Western Christian church they have been commonly known as:
=> Melchior (also Melichior), a Persian scholar;
=> Caspar (also Gaspar, Jaspar, Jaspas, Gathaspa, and other variations), an Indian scholar; and
=> Balthazar (also Balthasar, Balthassar, and Bithisarea), an Arabian scholar.

The phrase from the east, more literally from the rising [of the sun], is the only information Matthew provides about the region from which they came. Historian John of Hildesheim relates a tradition in the ancient silk road city of Taxila (near Islamabad in Pakistan) that one of the Magi passed through the city on the way to Bethlehem.

On finding him, they gave baby Jesus three symbolic gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Warned in a dream that Judean king Herod intended to kill the child, they decided to return home by a different route.

The Magi are described as "falling down", "kneeling" or "bowing" in the worship of Jesus. This gesture, together with Luke's birth narrative, had an important effect on Christian religious practices. They were indicative of great respect, and typically used when venerating a king.

Inspired by these verses, kneeling and prostration were adopted in the early Church. While prostration is now rarely practicd in the West, bar kneeling in front of statues in Catholic worship, it is still relatively common in the Eastern Churches, especially during Lent. Kneeling has remained an important element of Christian worship to this day.

Three gifts are explicitly identified in Matthew: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Many different theories of the meaning and symbolism of the gifts have been brought forward. While gold is fairly obviously explained, frankincense, and particularly myrrh, are much more obscure.

The theories generally break down into two groups:

=> All three gifts are ordinary offerings and gifts given to a king. Myrrh being commonly used as an anointing oil, frankincense as a perfume, and gold as a valuable.

=> The three gifts had a spiritual meaning : gold as a symbol of kingship on earth, frankincense (an incense) as a symbol of deity, and myrrh (an embalming oil) as a symbol of death.

Sometimes the gifts are described more generally as gold symbolizing virtue, frankincense symbolizing prayer, and myrrh symbolizing suffering.

Western Christianity celebrates the Magi on the day of Epiphany, January 6, the day immediately following the twelve days of Christmas, particularly in the Spanish-speaking parts of the world. In these areas, the Three Kings ("los Reyes Magos de Oriente", also "Los Tres Reyes Magos" and "Los Reyes Magos") receive letters from children and so bring them gifts on the night before Epiphany.

In Spain, each one of the Magi is supposed to represent one different continent, Europe (Melchior), Asia (Caspar) and Africa (Balthasar). According to the tradition, the Magi come from the Orient on their camels to visit the houses of all the children; much like Santa Claus with his reindeer, they visit everyone in one night.

In some areas, children prepare a drink for each of the Magi. It is also traditional to prepare food and drink for the camels, because this is the only night of the year when they eat.

A tradition in German-speaking areas is the writing of the three kings' initials (C+M+B or C M B, or K+M+B in those areas where Caspar is spelled Kaspar) above the main door of Catholic homes in chalk. This is a new year's blessing for the occupants and the initials also are believed to also stand for "Christus mansionem benedicat" ("May/Let Christ Bless This House").

Depending on the city or town, this will be happen sometime between Christmas and the Epiphany, with most municipalities celebrating closer to the Epiphany.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Performing for Seniors at a Nursing Home - Countdown to Christmas - Day 23

It's almost Christmas...the 23rd day of the month and the Countdown to Christmas.


Today’s focus was doing a harp and keyboard performance at the nursing home. We arrived early to help with the set-up of food - trays of meats, cheeses, cherry tomatoes, and olives.

The ladies were arranging food on Christmas-tree shaped trees.

Some of the ladies from the assisted living unit did the arranging of the food. It was a good way for them to do something creative, out of their "comfort zone" so it challenged them, and as a way to work collaboratively.

The women did a nice job arranging the food on the trays.

There were 26 residents including a couple family members who listened to the girls perform. It was nice because some of the residents we have developed friendships with made it a point to come down to the chapel to listen to the girls play the harp and piano.

The seniors listening to Sophia play the harp.

In some ways, it was a like performing for friends. In other ways, it was like having a room full of grandpas and grandmas who clapped after every piece the girls played.

Tia sang some songs as Sophia played the harp.

Some bowed their heads and closed their eyes as they listened to the Christmas songs. Others tapped their fingers to familiar beats. All listened intently.

Olivia played several songs on the piano.

Afterwards, many of the seniors came up to either the girls or me and thanked us for being there. One of the residents hugged Olivia and said, "I love you, Olivia." And not missing a beat, Olivia answered, "I love you too, Rita."

Emily, a 95 year old former school teacher, was so appreciative of hearing the girls play. She gave both the girls big hugs before she went back to her room.

One of the residents, John, who looks like Santa and who we enjoy visiting each time we're there; stayed longer so he could visit with us. He is never ready to back to his room when we are there. "You are my family," he has told us more than once.

It was a wonderful way to celebrate the anticipation of Christmas in two days. Between our visits this month on St. Nicholas Day, St. Lucia, Day, and today (for Christmas) - it truly has been one of the most meaningful months. The time we have spent with the seniors has shown us how time and sharing our gifts can make such a difference in others' lives.


Advent Reading

Matthew 1:22 - Now all this happened in order to make come true what the Lord had said through the prophet,


Christmas Joke

What do you have in December that you don't have in any other month? (The letter "D" !)


Christmas Fact

Today we learned where the tradition of caroling came from. The information is from Time magazine's website:

Christmas caroling as we know it dates back to the 19th Century and not much further. In fact, caroling itself didn't always involve Christmas, and the ancient tradition of traveling from house to house to wish neighbors good cheer didn't always involve singing.

There's a distinction to be made between carols — songs stemming from medieval musical traditions — and today's Christmas caroling, says Daniel Abraham, musicology expert and choral director at American University in Washington, D.C. "The concept of carol in its origins has actually nothing to do with Christmas," Abraham says.

Medieval carols were liturgical songs reserved for processionals in the 12th and 13th centuries. And though modern carols sometimes take their form from these original carols — starting with a refrain, followed by verses of uniform structure — they're separate entities.

The act of traveling to different homes comes from a different tradition altogether, albeit a similarly ancient one. In England, the word wassail — derived from the Old Norse ves heill meaning "be well, and in good health" — came to mean the wishing of good fortune on your neighbors.

No one is quite sure when the custom began, but it did give us the song, "Here We Come-A-Wassailing" — sung as carolers wished good cheer to their neighbors in hopes of getting a gift in return. ("A Wassailing" also evolved into the popular "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" — its last verse, "Bring us some figgy pudding" stems from the wassailers' original intent.)

The children and adult choirs singing together in 2011.

The two traditions of singing and visiting first merged in Victorian England, as church carols began to merge with Christian folk music. At that time, it was far from a Christmas tradition; festivals like May Day were deemed worthy of caroling, too, but the repertoire as well as early records of this are pretty unclear. In the 19th Century, as Christmas became more commercialized and popular, publishers began churning out anthologies of carols, many which were ancient hymns, also circulating them in broadsheets.

Many of our today's most popular carols date to this period. Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern published in London by British lawyer William B. Sandys in 1833, was the first to print "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "The First Noel" and "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing." "Joy to the World" first appeared in the Anglican Church hymnal Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1861.

Composed by Isaac Watts, known as the "father of Englsh hymnody", the song actually wasn't written exclusively for singing at Christmastime. Charles Wesley's "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" was originally "Hark! How All The Welkin Rings!" (Welkin means sky or heaven, and came to mean making a loud sound.)

The Oxford Book of Carols, first published in 1928, was a landmark book that combined medieval carols, folk songs and Christmas songs from around the world, publishing 201 of them in a 700-page volume. An updated version, the New Oxford Book of Carols, was published in 1992.

American caroling is far less common than it used to be, says Bob Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University. It's not unusual to see carolers standing still in a shopping mall or churchyard, but as for the random groups of friends traipsing to your doorstep for singing, don't count on it. "You talk to most baby boomers they might have a caroling story or two," says Thompson. "Talk to anybody born after 1960 or so and it's become much less common."

Singing Christmas Carols
Sophia and Olivia with their 4-H group Christmas caroling in 2011.

Simply put, times and culture have changed. "The singing of Christmas carols at a stranger's door assumes a similarity of culture among carolers and audience," says Chris Brunelle, an assistant professor of classics at St. Olaf college. With America a far more diverse and less homogenous society than it was in caroling's heyday, that's a larger assumption than many are comfortable with.