The singing of hymns and religious songs has been associated with religious festivals for many centuries, and this is particularly important at Christmas when the carols are just as important as Santa Claus and the tradition of gift giving. These carols help to get people in the spirit of Christmas, and as it is a festival celebrating the birth of Christ it also allows people to share the joy of this important religious event. Although Christmas is now often seen as a winter festival celebrated by most people, many of these carols are still Christian in origin.
The tradition of singing carols and singing together has been associated with Christmas for centuries, and was encouraged by many branches of Christianity. There appears to have been a steady growth in the popularity of carols, with some evidence to suggest that St Francis of Assisi had contributed to the growth in carols in the twelfth century, and that this had continued to grow until it was popularized following the Reformation in the sixteenth century.
The tradition of carol services in Churches and Chapels began growing in popularity during the late nineteenth century, and is now a fixture in the majority of Christian places of worship. There are also many choirs that will practice for the weeks and months leading up to December, and these will usually lead the singing. These concerts are also frequently used to raise money for charity or other community projects.
One of the most important traditions is for groups of carollers to sing in public during the weeks leading up to the festive period. They will often be joined by a brass band to provide an accompaniment to the singing. These groups that are singing will often be found in busy town centres during the popular shopping days in December. However, the groups of carollers originated as a smaller group of people that would visit the homes of people in a parish singing carols. This tradition continues in many countries to this day, with many carollers braving the inclement weather to bring the greetings of the season to the people in their villages and towns.
Many of the most popular carols are the most traditional ones that portray the nativity or the events related in the Bible around the birth of Christ. These also tend to be the oldest carols that are still popularly sung, and many of the most famous historical composers have written or arranged carols, such as Felix Mendelssohn’s ‘Hark, the herald angels sing’.
The imagery that is to be found in these carols is especially successful, and along with the angels many of the carols also invoke images of the shepherds and their reactions to the host of angels that appeared before them. However, the portrayal of the Nativity scene itself is most prevalent in these carols, with the most well known examples including ‘Silent Night’ and ‘Away In A Manger’. Examples of hymns relating to the birth of Christ have been found from as early as the fifth century, with some examples seen across the centuries, with some being found in Germany in the fourteenth century, before they became fairly commonplace after the Reformation.
Another of the topics that is the subject of carols is winter, and many of these are traditional songs that have been sung during the winter festival for centuries. Carols such as ‘The Holly And The Ivy’ and ‘Deck The Halls’ emphasise the role that these winter plants play in the decorating of homes for the festive season. Snow and wintry weather are also prominent subjects to be found in these carols, with the snow often being portrayed as a welcome event that will get people into the spirit of the holiday, which is seen in ‘White Christmas’ and ‘Let It Snow’.
The tradition of Santa Claus and his sleigh is found in many more modern carols, and these often have a more modern musical accompaniment too. Carols such as ‘Jingle Bells’ and ‘Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer’ both have a more upbeat tune than many other carols, which tends to make them much more popular for groups singing the carols. The tradition of gift giving is also portrayed in the carol ‘The Twelve Days Of Christmas’, which can be connected with the tradition of the Advent.