The journey of the Christmas carol

Kate Giles
It’s that time of the year when the sounds of Christmas are everywhere. Hearing my favourite carol makes me think about the tradition of singing carols at Christmas. Carols have a long history dating back to the middle ages. Nativity scenes, plays and Christmas songs were developed in the 13th century. In 1647 Christmas songs were banned in England because they were seen as being inappropriate. Many of the Christmas festivities we know today were re- adopted in England in the 19th century.
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Kate Giles on 22/12/2014
Ceramic figurines depicting the nativity scene.
Nativity scenes and songs date back to the Middle Ages.

Nativity scenes and songs date back to the Middle Ages.

It’s that time of the year when the sounds of Christmas are everywhere. I turn the radio volume up to my favourite Christmas song, "The Little Drummer Boy".

“Shall I play for you, pa rum pump um, on my drum.”

As the music fills the room, I think about the beginning of carols and how they became a traditional part of Christmas.

Long history

Christmas carols have quite a long history dating back to the Middle Ages. Its believed the word carol comes from the French word "Carole", which meant a dance accompanied by singing. Such song and dance routines were part of many festivals.

It is said that writings representing Christmas go back to the fourth century. This was also the time when 25 December was chosen to celebrate the birth of Christ. Songbooks celebrating Christmas began to develop. But as these carols were written and sang in Latin, they never became popular and quickly faded away.

Nativity scenes and plays

It wasn’t until the 13th century that Christmas began to take a different direction. St Francis of Assisi organised nativity scenes and plays. Drinking songs were rewritten with Christmas themes and were allowed to be sung in native tongues.  However, these celebrations were not so much a church festivity, but more so carried out privately at home. It is also believed the words of the songs were often changed to connect with the different cultures throughout Europe.

Festivities in England

In 1647 many of the Christmas festivities came to an abrupt end in England. It was the era of the Puritans who believed such rituals and festivities to be sinful. Many such celebrations, including the singing of Christmas carols were stopped altogether. And although the festivities remained mostly unchanged in other parts of Europe it was not so in England.

In England Christmas celebrations once again appeared during the 19th century. The changes came about after the marriage of Queen Victoria to German-born Prince Albert. Many of the traditions supported by the prince were adopted by the English royal family. These festivities included nativity scenes and the singing of carols.

The customs of the royal family were quickly adopted. Old songs were redeemed and new songs were written. Along with the development of Christmas cards and the giving of gifts, singing carols at Christmas became tradition.

Quite a journey

Now in the lead up to Christmas, hundreds of carols fill the air.  And like many other traditional songs, The Little Drummer Boy has had quite a journey to praise the new born king.

Divine would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and safe new year.








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