Every year millions of people come together to sing their favorite Christmas carols, but they may not know how the tradition began. Songs sung during pagan Winter Solstice celebrations were sung thousands of years ago. Singing and dancing to celebrate the shortest day of the year happened around December 22nd. Similar song and dance celebrations were held year-round, but the Winter Solstice celebration survived to become Christmas caroling.
The Early Christians adopted the tradition and Roman Bishops began incorporating religious songs into Christmas services. These songs were written in Latin, though, and many common people didn’t understand them. The practice waned until St. Francis of Assisi started nativity plays in Italy. Actors in the plays sang songs, some in Latin, but many in the native languages of people throughout Europe such as Spain, Germany, and France.
During Elizabethan times, carols were only loosely based on the Christmas story and were seen as entertainment rather than worship. When the Puritans dominated England, carols were sung only in secret. Public caroling was revitalized during the Victorian era and songs were often sung by official carol singers called Waits because they only sang on Christmas Eve. These groups were often led by local leaders, who were allowed to take donations from the town residents.
With the growth of choral groups and orchestras, composers wrote more carols. These songs were again incorporated into services and the practice of singing in the streets became more common. Many of these carols survive today and are beloved Christmas traditions sung with families and friends.
O, Holy Night, Silent Night, Jingle Bells, and Away in a Manger are just a few carols we can thank the Victorians for popularizing. Instruments such as drums, pipes, and bells often accompanied the singing and created a lively atmosphere. Whichever carols are your favorites, keep the tradition alive this holiday season and take part in the singing.
At Bialek’s Music, we have talented vocalists who perform solo or as part of duets and trios. Our musicians and musical groups play instruments of all types, suitable for Christmas carols or other holiday favorites. If you need a strong voice among your carolers, or want to add a professional performance to your holiday party, contact Bialek’s Music today.