It’s that time again. Time for Christmas carols. Christmas songs are as much a part of Christmas as pumpkin pie is of Thanksgiving. You can’t go anywhere after Thanksgiving (and in some cases…sadly…many weeks before) without hearing carols played. In the stores, the radio stations, church, online websites…carols are everywhere!
In the thirteenth century, in France, Germany, and particularly, Italy, under the influence of Francis of Asissi, a strong tradition of popular Christmas songs in the native language developed. Christmas carols in English first appear in a 1426 work of John Awdlay, a Shropshire chaplain, who lists twenty-five “caroles of Cristemas”, probably sung by groups of ‘wassailers’, who went from house to house. The songs we know specifically as carols were originally communal songs sung during celebrations like harvest tide as well as Christmas. It was only later that carols began to be sung in church, and to be specifically associated with Christmas.
Carols gained in popularity after the Reformation in the countries where Protestant churches gained prominence (as well-known Reformers like Martin Luther authored carols and encouraged their use in worship), this was the consequence of the fact that the Lutheran reformation warmly welcomed music.
Adeste Fidelis (O Come all ye faithful) appears in its current form in the mid 18th century, although the words may have originated in the thirteenth century. The origin of the tune is disputed. The first appearance in print of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”, “The First Noel”, “I Saw Three Ships” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” was in Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (1833) by William B. Sandys. Composers like Arthur Sullivan helped to repopularize the carol, and it is this period that gave rise to such favorites as “Good King Wenseslas” and “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”, a New England carol written by Edmund H. Sears and Richard S. Willis. ~Wikipedia
As parents, Christmas wouldn’t be complete without a school or church program, filled with rosy-faced children singing old familiar songs. I remember sitting in the audience when Derek and Craig were young, just praying they wouldn’t be the child to “attract” the attention of the crowd. As children, we would go caroling to shut-ins and nursing homes. Christmas songs reach through the ages and connect the young and the old.
The great thing about Christmas songs is that they come in many shapes and sizes. Some songs have been recorded so many times that each generation has their oven version. Christmas carols can evoke a wide range of emotion. Some make us happy, like Jingle Bells.
Jingles Bells, You know, Santa Claus and ho-ho-ho, and mistletoe and presents to pretty girls. ~Lucy Van Pelt (Charlie Brown Christmas)
Some make us laugh, like Deck the Halls (The Christmas Story version) Deck the harrs with boughs of horry, fa ra ra ra ra, ra ra ra ra. ~The Waiters at Chop Suey Palace
Some remind us of a time long ago, when we were wide-eyed children, waiting up for Santa Claus to come, like Santa Claus is Coming to Town or Up on the Rooftop.
Others are gentle reminders of the Christ child, like O Holy Night or Away in a Manger.
And yet, some Christmas songs tell a different story. Elvis’ Blue Christmas and The Eagle’s Please Come Home for Christmas are reminders that not everyone is having a Merry Christmas. That there are those people who aren’t with their loved ones, for whatever reason. For some, it’s physical distance; for others, it’s a strained relationship. Some are celebrating a first Christmas after the death of a loved one. Many are out of work and find the holidays are just adding to their stress.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year…except when it isn’t.
Take time today to say a prayer for those you know who might be struggling this time of year. Remember those for whom Christmas songs are just another reminder of what they are missing in their lives. May Peace on Earth be theirs this Christmas season.
May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels. ~Psalm 122:7