The Meaning and Origin of the Christmas Carols We Love to Sing

The holidays are upon us and Christmas is just around the corner 7 days to be exact and as is our tradition of starting the Christmas 12 days of Christmas and (we do a few at a time). This year AMERiders will be giving you the Stories behind Christmas Carols and Traditions, as well as the 12 days of Biker Christmas and our usual closing out with our Night before Christmas Biker Style. So last week we did the 12 Days of Biker Christmas parts 1 and 2, this is is the meaning of those Christmas Carols we hold so dear.

History of Christmas Carols

Carols were first sung in Europe thousands of years ago, but these were not Christmas Carols. They were pagan songs, sung at the Winter Solstice celebrations as people danced round stone circles. The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, usually taking place around 22nd December. The word Carol actually means dance or a song of praise and joy! Carols used to be written and sung during all four seasons, but only the tradition of singing them at Christmas has really survived.

 Carols

Early Christians took over the pagan solstice celebrations for Christmas and gave people Christian songs to sing instead of pagan ones. In 129, a Roman Bishop said that a song called “Angel’s Hymn” should be sung at a Christmas service in Rome. Another famous early Christmas Hymn was written in 760, by Comas of Jerusalem, for the Greek Orthodox Church. Soon after this many composers all over Europe started to write ‘Christmas carols’. However, not many people liked them as they were all written and sung in Latin, a language that normal people couldn’t understand. By the time of the Middles Ages (the 1200s), most people had lost interest in celebrating Christmas altogether.

This was changed by St. Francis of Assisi when, in 1223, he started his Nativity Plays in Italy. The people in the plays sang songs or ‘canticles’ that told the story during the plays. The new carols spread to France, Spain, Germany, and other European countries. The earliest carol, like this, was written in 1410. Sadly only a very small fragment of it still exists. Traveling singers or Minstrels started singing these carols and the words were changed for the local people wherever they were traveling. One carol that changed like this is ‘I Saw Three Ships’.

When Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans came to power in England in 1647, the celebration of Christmas and singing carols was stopped. However, the carols survived as people still sang them in secret. Carols remained mainly unsung until Victorian times when two men called William Sandys and Davis Gilbert collected lots of old Christmas music from villages in England.

 Carols
Photo by Pat Barcas

Also, at this time, many orchestras and choirs were being set up in the cities of England and people wanted Christmas songs to sing, so carols once again became popular. Many new carols, such as ‘Good King Wenceslas’, were also written in the Victorian period.

New carols services were created and became popular, as did the custom of singing carols in the streets. Both of these traditions are still popular today! One of the most popular types of Christmas Carols services is Carols by Candlelight services. At this service, the church is only lit by candlelight and it feels very Christmassy! Carols by Candlelight services are held in countries all over the world.

The most famous type of Carol Service might be a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, where carols and Bible readings tell the Christmas Story.

And now we know the story behind Christmas Carols.
carols

The 12 Days of Christmas are now most famous as a song about someone receiving lots of presents from their ‘true love’. However, to get to the song there had to be the days to start with!

The 12 Days of Christmas start on Christmas Day and last until the evening of the 5th January – also known as Twelfth Night. The 12 Days have been celebrated in Europe since before the middle ages and were a time of celebration.

The 12 Days each traditionally celebrate a feast day for a saint and/or have different celebrations. Since some of us don’t celebrate it that way or haven’t known about it like that and only knew the lyrics to the song we usually have just played with it starting on the 12th and going to the 24th. We at AMERiders don’t usually have a lot of time and usually split up our 12 days of Christmas Carol in two days and we did that last week.

We hope you have enjoyed our 12 Days of Christmas Carol informational, and have a great and safe holiday.

~And as always…

~Live Free Ride Hard~

~AMERiders

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Let AMERiders give you The Meaning and Origin of the Christmas Carols We Love to Sing.

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