Whether you enjoy actually singing or just listening, Christmas carols are a
mainstay of the holiday season. Many cities around the U.S., and likely
elsewhere in the world, have at least one radio station that plays nothing but
Christmas carols all the way through Christmas Day. There are religious carols,
such as “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” and “Little Drummer Boy,” and secular
carols, such as “Deck the Halls,” and “Frosty the Snowman.” But how long have
carols been around, and when did they become popular?
the Christmas carols that the world knows today were written sometime in the 18th
century, although carols themselves, as both a form of worship and art, may go
back as much as a thousand years. The carol, “I Saw Three Ships,” is thought to
be one of the first Christmas carols written.
Christmas celebration in general nearly ground to a halt during the Puritan era,
where people believed Christmas was a holiday for quiet solemnity and not one
for celebration. In fact, in Massachusetts, people who dared to actually
celebrate anything on Christmas Day were fined. During this time, Christmas
carols nearly disappeared also.
the 18th century, caroling and other celebrations of Christmas began
to see a slight revival. Singing carols in the streets, however, was limited to
groups of officials and town leaders called Waits, as they performed various
Christmas carols in the streets on Christmas Eve, which was also known as “the
waitnight,” because of the belief that shepherds were waiting and watching their
flocks when the angels appeared the night that Christ was born. Going caroling
during the Christmas season grew from the tradition of the Waits, and is still a
popular thing to do both in the U.S. and in the U.K. today.
the 18th century, orchestras and choirs would perform Christmas
carols for the people in English cities, so that they would also have something
to sing and celebrate. Many new carols, such as “Good King Wenceslas,” were
written around this time to add spice and newness to the performances.
in the 19th century, two men, Davies Gilbert and William Sandys,
published two separate volumes of ancient Christmas crols found in England.
Versions of many of these carols, such as “The First Noel,” are still around
today. In the 1840s, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert popularized Christmas
celebrations again, and singing Christmas carols once more became popular.
like “White Christmas,” and other secular carols came about in the 20th
century and today are virtually synonymous with the more traditional, religious
hymns. Many singing icons, like Bing Crosby and Celine Dion, along with groups
like the Dixie Chicks and even groups like the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and
Mannheim Steamroller, all have their own versions of secular and traditional
Christmas carols that are very popular around the world.
caroling with small groups of friends and family also remains a popular activity
during the Christmas season, often enhancing people’s feelings of the spirit of