Christmas carols are an important aspect of Christmas celebrations all over the world. They evoke in us the festive spirit with their simple lyrics and melody. Christmas Carols, whether “O Holy Night”, “Silver Bells”, or “Here Comes Santa Claus”, help to bring people together in harmony like no other music does. It has been said that Christmas songs wrap themselves about you like a shawl. But they warm more than your body. They warm your heart and fill it with a melody that makes you wish it would last forever.
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 the 22nd December. The word Carol actually 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!
Early Christians took over the pagan solstice celebrations for Christmas and gave people Christian songs to sing instead of pagan ones. This began in AD 129 when a Roman Bishop said that a song called “Angel’s Hymn” should be sung at a Christmas service in Rome. Soon after this, many composers all over Europe started to write carols. However, not many people liked them as they were all written and sung in Latin, a language that the normal people couldn’t understand.
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 that told the story of Christ’s birth. 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. The carol was about Mary and Jesus meeting different people in Bethlehem. Most Carols from this time were very loosely based on the Christmas story and were seen as entertaining rather than religious songs. They were usually sung in homes rather than in churches! In Europe, a tradition began of groups of people going from door to door in the community and singing outside their houses.
There is a legend that says the term ‘Christmas Carol’ originated because a young girl named Carol went missing in London, one cold winter night. As her friends went from door to door searching for her, in a manner similar to the Christmas singers, the name Christmas Carol began to be used.
Popular songs such as “Jingle Bells” or “White Christmas” are also considered as Christmas carols and are now sung with great gusto around Christmas time. Just hearing the famous Christmas carol “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” makes us feel happier. New Christmas songs continue to be written that try to put into words the special feeling that we have for family and friends at Christmas time.
So how do we transform this to make it a reminder of the birth of Jesus Christ?
As you listen to all types of Christmas music this year, remember that the Angels may have been the first to sing a Christmas carol, as one star-lit night, they began to declare the message that baby Jesus had been born. Luke 2:10-12 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
Our favorite Christmas song is “Mary’s Boy Child”. We first heard it the Christmas that Sheilah’s dad died. Christmas is a sad time to lose someone you love, but this song reminded us that year that ‘Man can live forevermore because of Christmas Day’ and we will see Pa Head again one day!
“We Wish You a Merry Christmas; We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!”