What is a celebration without some light and sound? Christmas is no different. In the days of yore Christmas was more of a religious festival. Today it is celebrated with great pomp and gaiety across the globe by people of different faiths. Christmas is a celebration of unity and brotherhood and is incomplete without Christmas carols. The most heard of all the Christmas carols, ‘Jingle Bells’ remain the closest to the heart. More than anything it is the fervor and zest that a Christmas carol brings with it, which adds on to the true spirit of the celebration. The jingling bells try to awaken the dull spirits and enthusiasm in you. They brush up the golden memories of the celebrations of the past. From the dull and slow hymns and hymnals, carols have indeed come a long way. The word “carol” actually means dance or a song of praise and joy! From pagan origins to the songs that you hear today, Christmas carols have a tale of their own to tell.
Interesting Information About Origin And Background Of Christmas Carols
The history of carols dates back to a time when Christianity was born. It all started with the celebration the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year that falls on 22 December. People celebrated it by singing and dancing around the stone circles. It was a time when people needed no reason to celebrate, as they celebrated life.
With the advent of Christianity, people began giving their pagan celebrations a twist when they were asked to sing Christian hymns instead of pagan ones. In AD 129, it was a Roman Bishop who came up with the idea of singing a song, ‘Angel’s hymn’, at a Christmas service in Rome. Again in 760 AD, Comas of Jerusalem wrote a hymn for the Greek Orthodox Church. This kick-started a new tradition of singing hymns at Christmas services with many a composers writing and composing hymns. But the impediment was the language used in singing the hymns. This did not please the laymen as they did not understand the language. It was at this juncture that St. Francis of Assisi came out with a new plan.
When St. Francis of Assisi came to learn that people had lost interest in religion, he tried to keep them together with his Nativity Plays in Italy. The plays were full of songs or canticles that told the story of Jesus Christ which got the attention of the masses. Though the language that was commonly used was Latin, other languages also were used so that the audience could join in. This soon spread like a pandemic to various other parts of Europe especially France, Germany and Spain.
The first known carol, the kind of which is still in vogue was written in 1410. It was about how Mary and Joseph met different people in Bethlehem. Gradually, carols became popular with the common masses. Since then, the carols were written solely to entertain people. Seen as a source of mass entertainment, such songs were rarely sung at church services. Carol singers changed the words of their songs in accordance with the places they visited or travelled to.
Singing Christmas carols was brought to a halt when Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans came to power in England. Nevertheless, the tradition of singing carols was still held in secret, keeping the passion alive. In the Victorian times, two men, William Sandys and David Gilbert did a great job by collecting old Christmas songs from English villages. They made it popular by singing them in public, and gave the kiss of life to carol singing.
Before carol singing was made popular, there were only a set of people who were allowed to sing the carols, called the ‘Waits’. The Waits under the leadership of their team leader would sing carols and take money from the public. No one else other than the waits were supposed to sing the carols as otherwise they would be listed as beggars.
With time, orchestra and instruments accompanied the songs. With increase in popularity came new songs and new ways of singing carols. One of the famous carol rituals is candlelight services. In this particular service, the whole church is lit up with candles, followed by the carol singing. This makes the Christmas Eve celebration special.
Today, Christmas is a festival that is celebrated by people of different faiths. Keeping this in mind carol singers have come up with more secular compositions. With the world now a global village thanks to the internet and other forms of media, Christmas carols are no more Christian, they have become secular teaching every man something spiritual during Christmas.