A Christmas carol is a song whose message or lyrics focuses on Christmas or sometimes the winter season which generally are sung in the period before Christmas. The word carol is derived from a French word caroler, meaning dancing around in a circle. But it later came to mean not only dancing in a circle, but music and lyrics accompanied it hence the name Christmas caroling. Christmas carols first appeared in English through the work of John Awdlay, a Shropshire chaplain, who made a list of about twenty five Christmas carols. These songs were sung by different groups of wassailers, who moved from house to house. The songs, currently known as carols originally, were known to be communal songs which were sung during celebrations such as harvest tide as well as Christmas (Ralph 56). But later on, carols began to be sung in church and particularly being associated with Christmas. Carols began to gain popularity after the countries' reformation, where protestant churches received prominence through the well known reformers like Martin King Luther, who authored carols and motivated their use in worship. This was a result of the fact that the Lutheran reformation warmly welcomed music.
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Currently, carols are regularly performed at Christmas religious services, though some of the compositions include words that are clearly not of a religious theme but are frequently still referred as carols. For instance, a wassailing song a Bone, God Wot, sung in the sixteenth century is song sung during drinking or while requesting ale, yet it is described in the British museum's cottonian collections as a Christmas carol. There is always a problem of differentiating between a Christmas song and a Christmas carol. A song would need to have a fairly rapid, regular beat for it to be sung by a church choir or even be sung in the street by amateurs so that it can exclude a meandering crooning song as white Christmas. In some circumstances, a country music song like Blue Christmas may qualify, though it would have to be adopted by many church choirs over a long period of time so as to be truly vernacular. Unfortunately it has failed to gain wide acceptance. Carol is sometimes defined as a religious song that is associated with Christmas. It's believed by some countries that if Christmas carols are sung before December, or later after Christmas that's on Boxing Day, then it symbolizes bad luck (Miles 78).
Christmas carols traditionally, have been focused on medieval chord patterns thus it is because of this that makes them to have unique characteristic musical sound. For example, songs like Good King Wenceslas and The Holy and the Ivy can be recognized straight form the Middle Ages, and are considered to be among the oldest musical compositions that are sung regularly. Research shows that variety of Christmas carols were written prior to the twentieth century, however, modern compositions have been written in more recent times (Britten 79). For instance, many carols composed by Alfred Burt are regularly sung in both sacred and secular settings and are among the well known modern Christmas carols.
Early carols were rediscovered in the 19th century in the museum by antiquarians. Some of the songs found include wassailing songs, religious songs in English and some written in latin.But because some people were not able to understand Latin; these songs were composed mainly for church choristers and for educated audience at the Royal courts. The pattern of singing Christmas carols outside the church settings early in nineteenth century is best described by Thomas Hardy's book Under the Greenwood Tree in 1872.
In some countries such as England, Poland, and Romania, they have a tradition of Christmas caroling referred to as wassailing, in which groups of singers move from one household to another. They sing carol, for which they are most of the time given gifts, money, mince pies, or a glass of an appropriate beverage (Britten 80). Money collected in this manner is always given to charity. The process of singing carols in church was launched on the eve of Christmas 1880 in Truro cathedral, Cornwall in England, and now it is done in churches worldwide. The songs selected for singing in church left out wassailing carols, and thus the words hymn and carols were instead used almost interchangeably. However, the idea of singing carols at Christmas was instituted by the Salvation Army under the leadership of Charles Fry. Christmas carols can be sung at individual level, or as a group of many people involving trained professional choirs. Many churches therefore today have special services at which carols are played, combined with scripture readings about the birth of Christ (Britten 90).
Christmas carols are defined as special songs that are sung during Christmas celebrations. Most of the songs are about Jesus and the period when he was born. Varieties of Christmas carols were composed with a special purpose, most of the time to accompany actions of religious dramas. During the middle age periods, carols were dances that were accompanied by singing. Studies show that these dances were adopted in England from France. Oliver Cromwell once banned the Christmas carols between 1647 and 1660, with the claim that Christmas should be a solemn day. However, the tradition of singing from door to door picked up again after they were banned from churches during the middle ages. Nevertheless, the idea of playing Christmas carol in church was rediscovered in the 19th century in the museum where most of the songs written were in a mixture of both English and Latin and was mostly written for choristers.