When Christmas is near, everyone loves to listen to Christmas music, including the traditional carols. You usually hear it everywhere you go, but where did it originate from? Carols were first sung in Europe, but they were not quite like the ones we hear today. They weren’t even Christmas carols, they were pagan songs. For the Winter Solstice, Pagan songs were sung. People danced around stone circles to celebrate. Later on, Christians took over the pagan songs and changed them to be sung for Christmas as Christian songs. The Christian songs were sung in latin, which made it hard for people to understand and led to everyone not celebrating Christmas by the Middle Ages.
During the Medieval times, the Christmas music was deep and spiritual and about Christ and the Virgin Mary. They were very solemn and religious compositions. It wasn’t as much of the holiday joy and celebration as we know today. Only the rich could enjoy the musical art holiday carols in the 1400s and 1500s. When the 1600s came, a lot of the Christmas carols were banned. They thought of it as inappropriate towards the church. A lot of the classic carols from that time have now been forgotten.
Later on in 1223, a man named St. Francis started Nativity Plays in Italy. Some of the carols were in Latin but most were in a language all could understand and actually enjoy. These new carols spread throughout European countries. An early carol that doesn’t really exist anymore was written in 1410. That carol was about Mary and Jesus meeting others in Bethlehem. A lot of these carols were not true and were used for entertainment. Then travelers sang these songs in public and would change the words for the people wherever they went.
Christmas carols and the celebration were soon put to a stop again when Oliver Cromwell and puritans took power of England. Luckily, people sang in private and the songs survived until victorian times when they could sing them again in public. Two men had collected Christmas music from villages of England and brought back the carols. However, before it was popular to sing in public, waits were who sang on Christmas Eve. They were a local band and were called waits because they had only sang on Christmas Eve and everyone had to wait to hear it. Celebrations of Christmas began once they sang. Also during this time, many people wanted to hear more Christmas music, so orchestras and choirs began to play in the cities of England. The victorian time was the rise for the popularity of carols.
In England and northern European countries, caroling wasn’t as much of a religious celebration. Caroling was a celebratory act of the singers drinking too much of their favorite holiday drink. Then in the 1900s, caroling was for charity and not just the treats and warm drinks they received. Now a lot of the carolers we hear today are from their local church or organization.
The most famous carol service is held at the King’s College in Cambridge, UK called The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. It was created in 1880 by a bishop named Edward Benson. The first one was held in a temporary Cathedral on Christmas Eve. This soon began to spread in the UK after hearing the choir sing at the King’s College in Cambridge. One of the first performances was performed to celebrate the end of the first World War. The college dean had been in the army and thought of it as a positive way to celebrate Christmas and the end of the War.
One famous carol, I Saw Three Ships, is a traditional English folk song. The words were written by traveling minstrels in the Middle Ages. Throughout time the words have changed with different Bible characters being on the ships. Today, the song is mainly about Mary and Jesus traveling to Bethlehem. Another carol is Silent Night. The words were written in 1816 by a Priest in Austria. The music was later added in 1818 by a school teacher. It was performed for a Christmas service by the children of St.Nicholas Church. It was originally supposed to be accompanied by an organ, but the organ broke, so they had to accompany the song with a guitar at the service. The words were also originally German, but were later translated to English in 1863.
A tradition in Austria, Belgium, and Germany is that the children dress up as The Three Kings. They carry a star and a pole and go around singing religious songs and carols. They recieve gifts such as sweets and money, which goes to charity and their church. Two traditions of singing and visiting were first merged from Victorian England. Festivals were held for the Christmas celebration. We now to this day have our own traditions that we use every year. Everyone has their own, but the thing that has stuck the most, and most everyone loves is caroling, whether it be for school, a choir, or an organization. The songs have transformed from not being about Christmas, to being in different languages, and have traveled all over the world. They used to be hymns in Latin and are now holly jolly Christmas songs we love today. Many people don’t know the great significance and the creation of carols.
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