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Christmas Carols Favorites - Songs to Celebrate the Season

Oct 25, 2007
Christmas Carols are songs or hymns with lyrics about the Christmas season. They are generally sung during the weeks before Christmas as a way to celebrate the upcoming season.

Traditional Christmas carols feature a strong tune and usually have parts specific to a soloist, followed by a chorus composed for group singing in mind. Their unique musical sound comes from the fact that most traditional carols are based on a more medieval chord pattern.

Holiday carols lost much of their popularity in the cities during the Reformation, but were kept alive in more rural communities until they made a comeback in the 19th century when many popular composers of he day began to publish their works around the mid-1800's.

Most Christmas Carols contain a religious overtone, partly due to the fact that they have usually been sung, for the most part, during religious ceremonies and services. Many modern day versions, however, have opted to celebrate the feelings and traditions of the season without religious lyrics. An ironic fact considering that Christmas itself is a celebration of Christ's birth which is a highlight of the Christian calendar.

In the late 1800's many jolly celebrators used to take to the streets singing carols door to door (now known as caroling), in order to collect food, clothing and money to give to the needy for the Christmas holidays. Oftentimes, carolers were rewarded with drink at each house, making their presentation even jollier as the evening wore on. Today carolers often sing at nursing homes, retirement communities and hospitals in order to help those that are homebound enjoy the season.

By 1880, carols were being sung during Christmas services in many churches, after Charles Fry instituted the idea of playing carols using a brass band at the Salvation Army a few years earlier.

Some say that the word carol ids derived from the Latin "carula," which means circular dance. That may explain why some of the early carols of the 1600's were actually written and played for dancing. However, the practice of dancing to carols was soon abandoned as organists took to playing them in church settings.

Now that you understand the history of the Christmas carol, you might be interested to learn how some of your favorite holiday songs came to be:

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.
After the English Civil War in the early 1700's, most churches reverted to singing hymns rather than carols. That's when Charles Wesley wrote a poem called Hark! How All The Welkins Ring. It was later added to a solemn tune and turned into the carol we know today.

Several years later, Charles brother John Wesley was accused of singing unauthorized hymns by the church when he was found to be singing some of the most popular carols at that time.

Silent Night.
One of the most popular Christmas carols of all time, Silent Night comes from Austria where there were no laws governing hymns. Although originally a Catholic hymn, the first English translation was printed in 1871 in a Methodist hymnal.
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