No Christmas is complete without carols. Most of us have at one point or the other either sung carols or at least heard them. Who wrote these carols? What is the history behind this Christmas tradition? Wouldn't
you like to know?
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 celebration as people danced round stone circles. This was the time when the gods of the forest were worshipped, and the evergreen of the leaves was celebrated for its strong life qualities at the dead of winter. Early Christians introduced Christian songs in place of these pagan songs and people were encouraged to sing them. However as these songs were written in Latin it was quite difficult for the common folk to learn them,
hence people soon lost interest in them.
The singing tradition was revived by St. Francis of Assisi, when, in 1223, he started his Nativity Plays in Italy. These plays had songs, which told stories, and most of them were in the language spoken by the local people. These carols had a joyful spirit in them, and soon became very popular and spread all across Europe.
In fact, the Puritans were so troubled by how much people enjoyed singing Christmas carols that they suppressed them in the mid-17th century. They were the revived by two men called William Sandys and Davis Gilbert during the Victorian age who scoured the country side and collected all the carols which were still being sung. This was the time when groups of singers were being formed. These groups with their pure voices were welcomed at every doorstep, where they sang these carols. When the parishioners attended their local churches on Christmas eve, they joined these choirs in singing the same songs, little realizing that the songs they were singing were actually centuries old!!
Here's a little more history about some of the carols we know and love.
Joy To the World: Isaac Watts published the words for this hymn in 1719. A century after he published "Joy to the World" the words were set to a tune devised by Dr. Lowell Mason from a theme in Handel's "Messiah."
Away in a Manger: The words to the first and second verse first appeared in an 1885 American collection of Lutheran Hymns. In 1892, a third verse was added.
God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen: Another carol of unknown authorship and probably predates the sixteenth century. It was first published in 1846.
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing: This was written by Rev. Charles Wesley, the brother of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. He originally called it "Hark! How All the Welkin Rings." That was changed by George Whitefield in 1753 when he published it in a collection.
So the next time you sing a carol, remember that you are part of a tradition that has survived the test of time!!
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