Saturday, December 25, 2010

The story behind favorite Christmas traditions (part 4) Christmas Carols

Nothing makes me feel more Christmasy than hearing a snatch of a familiar Christmas carol float out of the radio. They're inescapably everywhere- in stores, played at band concerts, and even in commercials.
But where did Christmas carols first begin?
In the tenth and eleventh centuries, most European religious songs were solemn and weighty. But in the twelfth century, that changed when St. Francis of Assisi penned songs of joyous acclimation for his congregation to sing.
A Latin Christmas carol
The word 'carol' derives from either the French 'carole' or the Latin 'carula', both words meaning 'a circular dance'. And indeed, most carols seem circular in their verse scheme, and most have a lively rhythm, as for a dance. Soon, wassailers (Christmas carolers) were singing St. Francis' songs from door-to-door.
After the Reformation, Christmas carols were even more popular. Reformers such as Martin Luther actually wrote carols, and encouraged their public use.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when Christmas was more widely celebrated, more carols were composed then ever before. Many of the carols we now sing today, such as Silent Night, Away in a Manger, and Hark! the Herald Angels Sing were written at this time.

Many Christmas carols continue to be written today, and everyone has that favorite Christmas tune.
Mine is Joy to the World, written by Isaac Watts in the eighteenth century, and the melody is based on one of the recitatives from the Messiah by Handel.
What are your favorite Christmas carols?

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