Many of us can recall as children getting bundled up in our winter coats, warmest gloves and long, knitted scarves and touring our neighborhoods singing Christmas carols with family and friends. It’s a tradition that’s been around since the night Jesus was born. It’s been said on that night, a choir of angels sang out in celebration.
A Christmas carol is a song or hymn whose lyrics are about Christmas or the winter season. They are traditionally sung in the period before and during Christmas. The tradition of Christmas carols hails back as far as the thirteenth century, although carols were originally communal songs sung during celebrations like harvest tide as well as Christmas. Christmas carols and caroling in the old world was a mix of singing and dancing and was practiced for all festivals throughout the year.
When Christmas was firmly established to be celebrated on December 25, many of the existing songs were sung on that day and new ones written to celebrate Christmas.
St. Francis of Assisi was instrumental in making the Christmas celebration one for the people instead of just for the clergy.
He created large nativity scenes outside of his church and translated many of the Christmas carols from Latin into languages spoken by the average person and encouraged them to sing these songs to express their joy during the Christmas season. This practice of singing Christmas songs outside of the church near the nativity scenes spread throughout Europe and it was a natural next step for these Christmas carolers to start walking through the neighborhoods around the churches sharing their festive songs.
But why are they called carols instead of songs? A popular urban legend was that they were named after a little girl named Carol Poles who disappeared in 1888 in the Whitechaple district of London. According to the legend, the little girl was reported missing around Christmas and many people went searching for her at night. Due to fears concerning Jack the Ripper, the group would sing Christmas carols upon knocking in order to declare their good intentions.
And even in today’s changing world, caroling is a Christmas tradition many people still hold dear.
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