The Tradition of Christmas Carols

There are two beliefs about the origins of Christmas carols and caroling. The first is that caroling started in England when wandering musicians traveled from town to town to visit castles and other homes of the rich and give impromptu performances. The second belief is that singing carols at Christmas came from the group of angels, shepherds and wise men who visited Jesus at his birth, as they sang praises unto Him and then continued their proclamations in the street.

The origin of the word carol, however, doesn’t come from either of these traditions. Scholars believe the word derived from ‘caroller,’ which is a French word to describe a circle dance with singers.

christmas carolsFrom the twelfth through the fourteenth centuries, the carol was highly popular as a dance song. Carols later became part of festivals, where they were sung as processional songs, while others were used as part of religious plays in Europe. Traditional qualities of a carol included the idea that the words should celebrate a seasonal topic, the music should have have verses and a chorus arranged alternately, and the music should be suitable for dancing.

Many of the Christmas carols we still sing during the holidays are very old, but many others have been lost forever. During the 17th century Protestant Reformation, many Christmas carols were banned and never heard again. The ones that that survived didn’t become popular again until the mid-19th century.

Today, Christmas carols are popular throughout the Christmas season at shopping malls and other retail stores, and are sung by churches, schools, and other groups. And they still serve the original purpose of bringing joy during the holidays!

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