A History of the Christmas Carol

A Christmas carol is a carol whose lyrics are on the theme of Christmas, and which are traditionally sung In the period before Christmas.

The first specifically Christmas hymns for Christiansthat we know of appear in fourth century Rome. In theninth and tenth centuries, the Christmas “Sequence” or “Prose” was introduced in North European monasteries.

In the twelfth century the Parisian monk Adam of St Victor began to derive music from popular songs, introducing something closer to the traditional Christmas carol.

In the thirteenth century, in France, Germany, and particularly, Italy, under the influence of Francis of

Assisi 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 begun 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

Traditionally, carols have often been based on medieval chord patterns, and it is this that gives them their uniquely characteristic musical sound. Some carols like “Good King Wenceslas” can be traced directly back to the Middle Ages, and are among the oldest musical compositions still regularly sung.