The very idea of Christmas carolling or Noel brings to mind jolly bands of church goers, dressed in shawls and top hats, singing in celebration in chruch or going from door-to-door. Whether it’s "Joy to the World", "Deck the Halls" or "Silent Night" Christmas carols provide the soundtrack to the holidays.
Christmas is viewed as a special time of year all over the world and Christmas carols are sung in celebration of the season. The carols symbolize Christmas, in terms of gathering the family, being joyous, and getting into the spirit of the holiday season.
Christmas carols are songs or hymns whose lyrics are based on the Christmas and the winter season. Originally Carols were first sung in Europe thousands of years ago, but these songs were not Christmas Carols; they were pagan songs usually sung in the Winter solstice celebrations. Early Christians took over the tradition of pagan solstice celebrations for Christmas and people started singing Christmas carols.
The first Christmas hymns appeared in the 4th century in Rome. The hymns were written by Archbishop Ambrose of Milan. From the 9th -10th centuries, the Christmas prose in the sequence of stanzas was first introduced in Northern Europe Monasteries.
Singing and carolling at Christmas is a very old folk custom .This tradition has been there since the time when Christianity and Christmas celebration were still in their early stages. Originally, music and songs at Christmas were in the form of hymns or chants. Words to these songs were added much later in the tradition.
In 1223, Saint Francis of Assisi started carols into the formal worship of the church during a Christmas Midnight Mass in a cave in Greccio, in the province of Umbria. That night, for the first time the songs in this sacred event were not hymns but carols. Ever since then, carols gained popularity among public. Tradition of Christmas songs in native languages caught on with the masses in the thirteenth century, under the influence of Francis of Assisi particularly in France Germany and Italy.
In the middle Ages, the English combined circle dances with songs were called carols for the first time. Later, the word carol came in to existence which means a song in which a religious topic is treated in a festive style. From Italy, it passed to France and Germany, and later to England. Christmas carols in English first appear in a 1426 work of John Audelay, a Shropshire priest and poet.
By the 16th century the popularity and tradition of carols saw a decline and the revival started by the mid of the 18th century. Most of the carols we hear today were written in late 18th century. The most popular set of these carols were written and composed in 1930. "Jingle Bells", "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas" and "Up on the House Top", were written in the mid-19th century.
The lyrics of these carols generally describe Christmas traditions and customs such as exchanging of gifts, Christmas tree, feasts and jingle bells. Many titles tells the mythical parts of Christmas celebration like Santa Claus distributing presents and coming down the chimney.