As you may know, or have have read in my bio, I am the Student Pastor of City View Baptist Church. One of the traits about City View is that we are a “more experienced” congregation. The upside is that there is a ton of wisdom to draw from and great, solid Christians for my students to see and use as Godly examples. The downside, you have a pretty decent size population of shut ins that just can’t get out and get to church anymore. One of our favorite things to do as a church during this time of year is gather together on a Wednesday and go caroling to our shut ins and the members that now reside in local nursing homes. As I was contemplating this typical Christmas tradition, I wanted to dig deeper and find out where Christmas Caroling came from.
As it turns out, the first Christmas carol was sung the night that Jesus enter the world. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:13-14). Now, I know that you might be thinking that this incident doesn’t count, but I ask, why not? The Christians of the first century continued the angelic tradition of composing songs centered around the event of Christ’s birth.
The word carol is french word carole. The word means song of praise and joy or circle dance; and like many other Christmas traditions, the carol takes its roots in the pagan rituals celebrating the winter solstice. These pagan rituals celebrated the coming of all the seasons, ironically, the only one to survive is the winter celebration as it exists in the form of the Christian celebration of Christmas.
As Carols evolved through the years, they were only written in Latin to begin with, severely limiting the audience to which could sing them. Around 1223, St. Francis of Assisi revived the carol as he used them in musical productions that were written in the language of that particular area. Carols started being popular again and began spreading through Europe. These songs weren’t always scripture based either- some were just light-hearted, joyous songs. This meant that these new carols weren’t likey sung in church, but were fan favorites on the streets and neighborhoods in the community.
Caroling, however, would not become what it is today until the Victorian period in England from 1837-1901. A couple of men, William Sandys and Davis Gilbert, published a book of these old and new Christmas songs and caroling became widely popular. It was common to see groups of children & adults in the middle of the street as passers-by dropped coins in a cup, hat, or jar (this is a typical scene from the movie A Christmas Carol). This money would usually go to some charity. It was also during this period of time that the tradition of lighting candles on Christmas Eve night while singing came about giving birth to today’s modern candlelight service.
Carols, whether spiritually based like O Come All Ye Faithful and Silent Night, or modern classics such as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman bring joy to young and old alike. They are ingrained in our traditions and our culture and they help remind us of the first time a carol was sung. More importantly, it serves as a reminder as to WHY the first carol was sung that night in Bethlehem. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
In Christ Alone,
Rev. Bro. Coach
Connie Ruth Christiansen, Christmas Carols, the History and Origin How Christmas Carols Have Become Part of Our Christmas Traditions. accessed at: http://www.sharefaith.com/guide/Christian-Holidays/holiday-songs/christmas-carols-the-history-and-origin.html