Dec 6, 2009

History of Christmas Carols

Christmas carols and nativity songs are common today, but it’s not always been that way. The word carol originally referred to a circle dance called a “carola,” and was performed without being sung. When words were eventually added, they were mostly used to accompany the dance movements. The original carols came from secular and pagan sources; and the Greeks and Romans used them in plays, weddings and festivals.

The first Christmas carols were based on the melodies of Jewish temple hymns and psalms. Most were about Christmas and use as part of worship. As the early church began to struggle with the continued influences of pagan customs over the populace, carols were prohibited in services. However, outside the church, they flourished.

Saint Francis of Assisi is largely credited with reintroducing carols into worship. In 1223, Francis was offering Christmas services at Grecchio in the province of Umbria, Italy. Telling the story of the infant Jesus. In a cave near the castle of Grecchio, Assisi set about re-creating the first Christmas night and conducted a midnight Mass. The friars composed and sang new joyful songs that were more like carols than hymns to accompany the setting Assisi had created. He opened the way for church and carols to become reunited.

During the Middle Ages, carols enjoyed even more popularity through their use with the mystery plays of the day. A mix of pageantry and song, the mysteries were dramatized biblical stories presented during church festivals. A number of these medieval carols have been preserved in manuscripts.

The often-repeated scene of strolling
Christmas carolers today are part of a long tradition that goes back to the beggars of the Middle Ages. The poor would sing carols to seek money, or food and drink. In England, at the time, they were known as “waits” and were rewarded with entry to the house and a hot cup of wassail (spiced ale or wine).

During the Protestant Reformation, church leaders thought that Christmas songs should avoid secular subjects and remain reverent. Joyful hymns, however, were welcomed, provided they did not stray from scriptural context. Protestant congregational singing led to widespread familiarity with Christmas hymns, and the combining of folk and sacred melodies increased in popularity.

The rise of Puritanism brought the greatest opposition to this Holiday tradition. Observance of all festivals, including Christmas, was abolished by Cromwell’s parliament in 1645. During the 12-year ban, the Middle Ages carol faded in England. Many in the United States, closely tied to Puritanism restricted themselves to singing and writing hymns for many years afterward.

Today, however, the interest in the musical heritage of the Holidays has rebounded and gained a popularity never seen before, not only in the United States, but in may other countries, filling the air (and campgrounds) with music and song during the Holiday season. Merry Christmas everyone!!!

-source CampingLife

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