Christmas Carols > Christmas carols are synonymous with the holiday season and can invoke the Spirit of Christmas in even the most Scrooge-like individuals. Indeed, Bing Crosby crooning “White Christmas”, Alvin’s squeaky “Chipmunk Christmas Song” or a group of carolers singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” can bring holiday warmth on the coldest December day.
The Origin of the Christmas Carol > The first carols were religious hymns written about the birth of Christ and included themes such as the nativity, peace, angels, baby Jesus, and the North Star. Beginning with St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), carols have been sung in church to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. It’s said that St. Francis was the first person to set up a manger scene in a church, a model of the stable in which baby Jesus was delivered that included farm animals, shepherds, and three singing wise men.
Christmas Carols around the World > The oldest printed collection of Christmas carols was published in 1521 by Jan van Wynkyn, an Englishman. The book included the “Boar’s Head Carol” which is still sung today.
“Silent Night” was written by an Austrian priest named Fr. Joseph Mohr in the early 19th century and was later translated into hundreds of languages. The popular version of “O Come, All Ye Faithful” was written by Canon Frederick Oakeley of London in 1852, but the origins of the song date back to the 13th century Franciscan St. Bonaventure. A Latin version was also popular in 1744 at vaudeville shows in Paris.
American Carols > “O Little Town of Bethlehem” was written by Phillip Brooks of Boston, Massachusetts, a preacher in the 19th century who became Episcopal Bishop of Massachusetts in 1891. He wrote the famous words of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” three years after he journeyed to the Holy Land and spent Christmas Eve in Bethlehem. Brooks gave the words to his church organist who set them to music on Christmas in 1868. “We Three Kings of Orient Are” dates back to 1857 when John Henry Hopkins wrote the carol for a Christmas pageant at the General Theological Seminary in New York City.
Modern Carols > In recent history, carols have come to tell about not only the nativity, but also secular holiday traditions, including reindeer, snowmen, Santa Claus, and more. Some popular nonreligious carols include Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas Is You,” “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” by Bruce Springsteen, “Blue Christmas” by Elvis Presley, and “Jingle Bell Rock” by Hall and Oates.
A Christmas carol is a carol (song or hymn) whose lyrics are on the theme of Christmas, or the winter season in general. They are traditionally sung in the period before and during Christmas.
The tradition of Christmas carols goes back as far as the thirteenth century, although carols were originally communal songs sung during celebrations like harvesttide as well as Christmas. It was only later that carols began to be sung in church, and to be specifically associated with Christmas.
Traditional carols have a strong tune and consist of a verse and/or chorus for group singing. They are often based on medieval chord patterns, and it is this that gives them their uniquely characteristic musical sound. Some carols like ‘Personent hodie’ and ‘Angels from the Realms of Glory’ can be traced directly back to the Middle Ages, and are amongst the oldest musical compositions still regularly sung. Carols suffered a decline in popularity after the Reformation, but survived in rural communities until the revival of interest in Carols in the 19th century. Composers like Arthur Sullivan helped to repopularise the carol, and it is this period that gave rise to such favorites as “Good King Wenceslas” and “It Came upon a Midnight Clear.”
Secular songs such as “White Christmas” and “Blue Christmas” are clearly not Christmas carols, though they are also popular in the period before Christmas, and should therefore be considered to be Christmas songs.
Carols can be sung by individual singers, but are also often sung by larger groups, including professionally trained choirs. Most churches have special services at which carols are sung, generally combined with readings from scripture about the birth of Christ, often this is based on the famous Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at Cambridge. Some of these services also include other music written for Christmas, such as Benjamin Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols” (for choir and harp), or excerpts from Handel’s “Messiah.”
There is also a tradition of performances of serious music relating to Christmas in the period around Christmas, including Handel’s “Messiah,” the “Christmas Oratorio” by J. S. Bach, “Midnight Mass for Christmas” by Charpentier, and “L’Enfance du Christ” by Berlioz.
In England there is a tradition of Christmas carolling (earlier known as wassailling), in which groups of singers travel from house to house, singing carols, for which they are often rewarded with money, mince pies, or a glass of an appropriate drink. Money collected in this way is normally given to charity.
Christmas carols can also be played on musical instruments, and another tradition is for brass bands, such as the Salvation Army brass bands, to play carols before Christmas.
The Twelve Days of Christmas is probably the most misunderstood part of the church year among Christians who are not part of liturgical church traditions.
Contrary to much popular belief, these are not the twelve days before Christmas, but in most of the Western Church are the twelve days from Christmas until the beginning of Epiphany (January 6th, the 12 days count from December 25th until January 5th). In some traditions, the first day of Christmas begins on the evening of December 25th but the following day is considered the First Day of Christmas (December 26th).
The origin of the Twelve Days is complicated, and is related to differences in calendars, church traditions, and ways to observe this holy day in various cultures. In the Western church, Epiphany is usually celebrated as the time the Wise Men or Magi arrived to present gifts to the young Jesus (Matt. 2:1-12). Traditionally there were three Magi, probably from the fact of three gifts, even though the biblical narrative never says how many Magi came. In some cultures, especially Hispanic and Latin American culture, January 6th is observed as Three Kings Day, or simply the Day of the Kings (Spanish: la Fiesta de Reyes, el Dia de los Tres Reyes, or el Dia de los Reyes Magos. Dutch: Driekoningendag).
Even though December 25th is celebrated as Christmas in these cultures, January 6th is often the day for giving gifts. In some places it is traditional to give Christmas gifts for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Since some Eastern Orthodox traditions such as Russian, use a different religious calendar, they celebrate Christmas on January 7th and observe Epiphany or Theophany on January 19th.
By the 16th century, some European and Scandinavian cultures had combined the Twelve Days of Christmas with (sometimes pagan) festivals celebrating the changing of the year. These were usually associated with driving away evil spirits for the start of the new year.
The Twelfth Night is January 5th, the last day of the Christmas Season before Epiphany (January 6th). In some church traditions, January 5th is considered the eleventh Day of Christmas, while the evening of January 5th is still counted as the Twelfth Night, the beginning of the Twelfth day of Christmas the following day.
Twelfth Night often included feasting along with the removal of Christmas decorations. French and English celebrations of Twelfth Night included a King’s Cake, remembering the visit of the Three Magi, and ale or wine (a King’s Cake is part of the observance of Mardi Gras in French Catholic culture of the Southern USA). In some cultures, the King’s Cake was part of the celebration of the day of Epiphany.
The popular song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is usually seen as simply a nonsense song for children. However, some have suggested that it is a song of Christian instruction dating to the 16th century religious wars in England, with hidden references to the basic teachings of the Faith. They contend that it was a mnemonic device to teach the catechism to youngsters. The “true love” mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The “me” who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the “days” represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn.
On the 1st day of Christmas my true love gave to me…
A Partridge in a Pear Tree
The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, whose birthday we celebrate on December 25, the first day of Christmas. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge that feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, recalling the expression of Christ’s sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: “Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered you under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but you would not have it so . . . .” (Luke 13:34)
On the 2nd day of Christmas my true love gave to me…
Two Turtle Doves
The Old and New Testaments, which together bear witness to God’s self-revelation in history and the creation of a people to tell the Story of God to the world.
On the 3rd day of Christmas my true love gave to me…
Three French Hens
The Three Theological Virtues: 1) Faith, 2) Hope, and 3) Love (1 Corinthians 13:13)
On the 4th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…
Four Calling Birds
The Four Gospels: 1) Matthew, 2) Mark, 3) Luke, and 4) John, which proclaim the Good News of God’s reconciliation of the world to Himself in Jesus Christ.
On the 5th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…
Five Gold Rings
The first Five Books of the Old Testament, known as the Torah or the Pentateuch: 1) Genesis, 2) Exodus, 3) Leviticus, 4) Numbers, and 5) Deuteronomy, which gives the history of humanity’s sinful failure and God’s response of grace in the creation of a people to be a light to the world.
On the 6th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…
Six Geese A-laying
The six days of creation that confesses God as Creator and Sustainer of the world (Genesis 1).
On the 7th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…
Seven Swans A-swimming
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: 1) prophecy, 2) ministry, 3) teaching, 4) exhortation, 5) giving, 6) leading, and 7) compassion (Romans 12:6-8; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:8-11)
On the 8th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…
Eight Maids A-milking
The eight Beatitudes: 1) Blessed are the poor in spirit, 2) those who mourn, 3) the meek, 4) those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 5) the merciful, 6) the pure in heart, 7) the peacemakers, 8 ) those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. (Matthew 5:3-10)
On the 9th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…
Nine Ladies Dancing
The nine Fruit of the Holy Spirit: 1) love, 2) joy, 3) peace, 4) patience, 5) kindness, 6) generosity, 7) faithfulness, 8 ) gentleness, and 9) self-control. (Galatians 5:22)
On the 10th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…
Ten Lords A-leaping
The ten commandments: 1) You shall have no other gods before me; 2) Do not make an idol; 3) Do not take God’s name in vain; 4) Remember the Sabbath Day; 5) Honor your father and mother; 6) Do not murder; 7) Do not commit adultery; 8 ) Do not steal; 9) Do not bear false witness; 10) Do not covet. (Exodus 20:1-17)
On the 11th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…
Eleven Pipers Piping
The eleven Faithful Apostles: 1) Simon Peter, 2) Andrew, 3) James, 4) John, 5) Philip, 6) Bartholomew, 7) Matthew, 8 ) Thomas, 9) James bar Alphaeus, 10) Simon the Zealot, 11) Judas bar James. (Luke 6:14-16). The list does not include the twelfth disciple, Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus to the religious leaders and the Romans.
On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…
Twelve Drummers Drumming
The twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles’ Creed: 1) I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. 2) I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. 3) He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. 4) He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell [the grave]. 5) On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. 6) He will come again to judge the living and the dead. 7) I believe in the Holy Spirit, 8 ) the holy catholic Church, 9) the communion of saints, 10) the forgiveness of sins, 11) the resurrection of the body, 12) and life everlasting.
Epiphany, January 6
Related Links > http://www.cresourcei.org/cy12days.html
Learn all about the most famous Christmas song Silent Night, Holy Night.
The original lyrics for the song in German, “Stille Nacht”, was written by Joseph Mohr and the melody was composed by Franz X. Gruber. It is said that there exist over 300 translations of the song in the world.
SILENT NIGHT: The Song Heard Round The World
by Bill Egan, Christmas Historian
180 years ago the carol “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht” was heard for the first time in a village church in Oberndorf, Austria. The congregation at that Midnight Mass in St. Nicholas Church listened as the voices of the assistant pastor, Fr. Joseph Mohr, and the choir director, Franz Xaver Gruber, rang through the church to the accompaniment of Fr. Mohr’s guitar. On each of the six verses, the choir repeated the last two lines in four-part harmony.
On that Christmas Eve, a song was born that would wing its way into the hearts of people throughout the world. Now translated into hundreds of languages, it is sung by untold millions every December from small chapels in the Andes to great cathedrals in Antwerp and Rome.
The German words for the original six stanzas of the carol we know as “Silent Night” were written by Joseph Mohr in 1816, when he was a young priest assigned to a pilgrimage church in Mariapfarr, Austria. His grandfather lived nearby, and it is easy to imagine that he could have come up with the words while walking thorough the countryside on a visit to his elderly relative. The fact is, we have no idea if any particular event inspired Joseph Mohr to pen his poetic version of the birth of the Christchild. The world is fortunate, however, that he didn’t leave it behind when he was transferred to Oberndorf the following year (1817).
On December 24, 1818 Joseph Mohr journeyed to the home of musician-schoolteacher Franz Gruber who lived in an apartment over the schoolhouse in nearby Arnsdorf. He showed his friend the poem and asked him to add a melody and guitar accompaniment so that it could be sung at Midnight Mass. His reason for wanting the new carol is unknown. Some speculate that the organ would not work; others feel that the assistant pastor, who dearly loved guitar music, merely wanted a new carol for Christmas.
Later that evening, as the two men, backed by the choir, stood in front of the main altar in St. Nicholas Church and sang “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!” for the first time, they could hardly imagine the impact their composition would have on the world.
Karl Mauracher, a master organ builder and repairman from the Ziller Valley, traveled to Oberndorf to work on the organ, several times in subsequent years. While doing his work in St. Nicholas, he obtained a copy of the composition and took it home with him. Thus, the simple carol, began its journey around the world as a “Tyrolean Folk Song.”
Read more at > http://silentnight.web.za/history/index.htm
Source and other Related Links > http://silentnight.web.za
The origin of the word Carol comes from the Greek “Choros”, which was a circle dance. It was without music, and was also secular in nature.
For most of the history of the early church carols, spoken, danced, or sung, were prohibited. But outside the church Nativity Carols became increasingly popular with the common folk. In the 13th Century St. Francis of Assisi is credited with bringing the peasant tradition into the church.
In America during the early part of the 17th Century all celebrations tied to Christmas were discouraged, and even occasionally banned due to their secular nature. This lead to the Carol almost being wipped out from society, but in rural areas the tradition is kept alive, once again by the common people.
After Charles Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” interest in Christmas, and things associated with Christmas, once again began to rise. Most of the Carols that we know today were written after the publication of “Christmas Carol” in 1843, although a few date back to the 13th Century.
Sources for the History of Christmas Carols >
The first sign of Christmas is the sound of music heard in stores and serenading callers on hold. No holiday celebration is complete without music. Listening to Bing Crosby’s White Christmas is as traditional as baking cookies, sending out holiday cards and decorating the tree.
Music has been a significant part of this holiday all the way back to the fourth century when medieval Christmas music consisted mostly of somber, religious songs sung in churches and cathedrals in the Gregorian tradition of the time. During the Renaissance era with its focus on the individual, the celebration of Jesus’ birth became a merrier occasion. These melodies are related to the carols sung around the world today. Carol comes from the French word caroler, meaning to dance in a ring. Nevertheless, the songs always featured religious themes and the lyrics were in Latin.
In 1818, an Austrian parish priest named Joseph Mohr wrote the world-renowned Silent Night and sang it for the first time in a church in Oberndorf, Austria. One of the most famous Christmas songs today, Silent Night has been translated into hundreds of languages.
Since then, writers and composers have created many kinds of Christmas music suited to every taste, whether it be rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel, or hip-hop. Most singers have recorded a favorite Christmas song, lending their own style to a familiar tradition. With so many choices of artists your collection of Christmas CDs can grow to be a large and costly investment. A simpler, more cost-effective solution is a compilation. Compilation CDs are great for those who enjoy a wide range of artists but prefer a particular genre. Instead of buying one CD with two favorite songs and too many mediocre ones, you can purchase a disc consisting entirely of the best singles. Compilations are also easier and less time consuming than downloading music from the Internet.
On www.timelife.com you can view the track listing of each CD and listen to an audio sample of any song. Listening to Perry Como, Dean Martin and Nat King Cole this December will evoke memories of holidays past and ensure a merry and nostalgic Christmas.
The first one is about the “Silent Night! Holy Night!” Museum in Salzburg, Austria. Yes, exactly! There is a Museum about this world-wide famous Christmas song.
Visit the Museum’s web-site at > http://www.silentnightmuseum.org
The second link is again an Austrian one. The Magic of Advent in Vienna! Christmas in Vienna!
Visit the web-site at > http://www.christkindlmarkt.at