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Christmas caroling has become a fun Christmas tradition but have you ever wondered about the history of Christmas carols and how they came to be?
Why is it Called a “Christmas Carol”?
As yet another cliche, Christmas caroling has been a hallmark of the holiday season, appearing in numerous movies and maybe even in some of your childhoods. People wander the streets, knocking on helpless neighbors’ doors to assault them with songs while the unsuspecting person stands awkwardly at the entrance to their homes, holding a polite smile while internally screaming.
Where does “Christmas Caroling” really come from? The word “carol” comes from the Greek word, “coros”, or “chorus”.
In ancient Greece, the coros came in during plays and sang hymns, just like choirs today. Then, in the late middle ages, people used the word “chorus” as dancing around a circle and singing hymns, just as children do in “Ring Around the Rosie”.
An old myth says that “Christmas caroling” came from a young girl, Carol Poles. Apparently, she went missing in the mid 19th century, because of course she did.
So, to her loved ones, the most obvious choice to take to deal with this tragic, traumatizing loss was to search for her by singing carols door-to-door. I mean, I guess everyone grieves differently. People are wack.
The History of Carols
The origins of carols lie in the form of Latin hymns. To be honest, I think carols- or the simple idea of people composing music revolving around events in their everyday lives- was inevitable. Music has been a constant in the human experience, and holidays are no exception to its invasive, though welcome, nature.
Monks and religious leaders wrote most of the old Christmas hymns in the 4th century. Along with hymns, people composed poetry, branching off into different forms of lyrical expression.
Many of the old Christmas hymns were in Latin. In the middle ages, caroling became very popular, and it has stayed that way since.
By the 14th century, Christmas caroling started to flourish all over Europe. There were many German carols made by writers like Meister Eckehart and others.
Then, miracle plays started to inspire Christmas carols in late medieval England. In the 15th to 16th-century, caroling started to blow up all over Europe.
Then, caroling started to spread all across Europe in places like Spain and France. Both Spain and France used Christian miracles in their carols.
During this time, Anglo Saxon peasants adopted caroling customs when they went wassailing. They sang for nourishment and good tidings from their superiors.
To give context, wassail was a frothy drink and has recently transformed into eggnog.
When the Puritans took over England in the 17th century, caroling started to die out. Although caroling started to end throughout Europe, some of the common folk kept it alive.
Just when Christmas caroling was coming back, sterner authorities gained control in Scotland, and they banned all Christmas traditions due to the holiday’s pagan background.
Finally, Christmas caroling was at the peak of ending in the 19th century. Once again, when caroling was at its end, the middle-class brought it back again.
In the late 19th century, churches started to use Christmas carols again, going back to the roots of the phenomenon.
After Christmas caroling made its come-back, it traveled into the United States. This is because America started to accept Christmas, as it was previously condemned for being a pagan holiday and thus went unnoticed by the piously religious people of early America.
When Christmas carols started to come into America, it flourished throughout the country, and it has since.
Oldest Christmas Carols Ever
What really is the oldest Christmas song ever? Although there is no definite answer, there are some very ancient Christmas carols.
Possibly the oldest of all is “Angles Hymn”. It was created by a Roman bishop in 129 AD.
Although we have the lyrics today, historians have never known what it sounded like.
“Jesus Refulsit Omnium” – St. Hilary of Poitiers
St. Hilary wrote “Jesus Refulsit Omnium” all the way back in the 4th century.
It was an old Christian hymn, and it was created in France after the first Christmas celebration.
“Corde Natus ex Parentis” – Prudentius
Prudentius wrote this old Latin hymn in the 4th century, but it wasn’t set to music until centuries late.
All of Our Favorite Christmas Songs!
We all have our favorite Christmas songs, but here are the facts of which Christmas song is really the best.
“White Christmas” – Bing Crosby
“White Christmas” by Bing Crosby is a Christmas classic. It’s sold the most copies of any Christmas song with 50,000,000 copies worldwide.
“White Christmas” was released in 1942 and is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most copies sold of any Christmas song.
“Silent Night” – Bing Crosby
By now, everyone has classified Bing Crosby as the king of Christmas music. With classics like “White Christmas”, “The Christmas Song”, and “Silent Night”, it’s hard to say that he isn’t the king.
It was made in 1978 and has sold over 30,000,000 copies worldwide.
“All I want for Christmas is you” – Mariah Carey
Out of the more modern Christmas songs, “All I want for Christmas is you” is definitely one of the most popular ones. It was written in 1994.
Later, it turned into a children’s book in 2015, and a movie in 2017. In 2019 it finally hit #1 on the top-100 and it’s now the most streamed Christmas song on Spotify.
It has sold over 16,000,000 copies worldwide, and it’s one of the most beloved Christmas songs across the Country.
What’s your favorite Christmas carol?