The History of Christmas Carols

His star shineth

Just before Christmas, the birthday of the Lord Jesus Christ, the practice of sending his messages from house to house through hymns (Carol) is celebrated in various parts of the world known as ‘Go Caroling Day’. This tradition has an interesting history as a reaction to the drunken revelry and accompanying (pagan) singing. St Francis gave the world the Christmas nativity; songs and canticles developed, thereafter.

Meaning Of Carols

Carols mean Christmas songs. As Christmas approaches, the melody of light music starts to echo in the winds. The word carols are also believed to originate from the French word caroller, which means dancing. The oldest of the Christmas songs was came in the fourth century. Light-hearted and easy-to-sing melodies became popular in the 14th century. They were then heard in Italy. Most of the writing and development of Christmas carols and their fame came in the 19th century. Carrels are also known as Noel. In these songs, best wishes are given to the neighbors. It involves going to your neighbours’ house on Christmas and sitting with them and enjoying Christmas Carol.

History Of Christmas Carols

Carols were first sung in Europe thousands of years ago
Carols were first sung in Europe thousands of years ago, but these were not Christmas Carols. They were pagan songs, sung at the Winter Solstice celebrations as people danced round stone circles. The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, usually taking place around 22nd December. The word Carol means dance or a song of praise and joy! Carols used to be written and sung during all four seasons, but only the tradition of singing them at Christmas has really survived

Christian songs instead of pagan

Wish thee a Merrie Christmas
Christmas, celebrate the birth of Jesus, then started to be celebrated at the same time as the solstice, so the early Christians started singing Christian songs instead of pagan ones. In 129, a Roman Bishop said that a song called “Angel’s Hymn” should be sung at a Christmas service in Rome.

Another famous early Christmas Hymn was written in 760, by Comas of Jerusalem, for the Greek Orthodox Church. Soon after this many composers all over Europe started to write ‘Christmas carols’. However, not many people liked them as they were all written and sung in Latin, a language that normal people couldn’t understand. By the time of the Middle Ages (the 1200s), most people had lost interest in celebrating Christmas altogether.

Canticles that told the Christmas story

This was changed by St. Francis of Assisi when, in 1223, he started his Nativity Plays in Italy. The people in the plays sang songs or ‘canticles’ that told the story during the plays. Sometimes, the choruses of these new carols were in Latin, but normally they were all in a language that the people watching the play could understand and join in. The new carols spread to France, Spain, Germany, and other European countries.

The earliest carol, like this, was written in 1410. Sadly only a very small fragment of it still exists. The carol was about Mary and Jesus meeting different people in Bethlehem. Most Carols from this time and the Elizabethan period are untrue stories, very loosely based on the Christmas story, about the holy family, and were seen as entertaining rather than religious songs. They were usually sung in homes rather than in churches. Travelling singers or Minstrels started singing these carols and the words were changed for the local people wherever they were travelling. One carol that changed like this is ‘I Saw Three Ships’.


Christmas Carolling


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