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The History of Christmas Carols                                                                                  15

           The History of Christmas


          Carols were first sung in Europe thousands of
          years ago, but these were not Christmas Carols.
          They were pagan songs, sung at the  Winter
          Solstice celebrations as people danced round
          stone circles (The word carol originally meant
          to dance to something). The Winter Solstice is
          the shortest day of the year, usually taking place
          around the 22nd December.  The word Carol
          actually means dance or a song of praise and
          joy! Carols used to be written and sung during
          all four seasons, but only the tradition of singing
          them at Christmas has really survived.
                 Early Christians took over the pagan
          solstice celebrations for Christmas and gave
          people Christian songs to sing instead of pagan
          ones. In 129, a Roman Bishop said that a song
          called "Angel's Hymn" should be sung at a
          Christmas service in Rome.  Another famous
          early Christmas Hymn was written in 760, by
          Comas of Jerusalem, for the Greek Orthodox      was sometimes known as 'watchnight' or         continue to remain" and 'merry' could mean
          Church. Soon after this many composers all      'waitnight' because of the shepherds were      "pleasant, bountiful, prosperous". So you could
          over Europe started to write 'Christmas carols'.  watching their sheep when the angels appeared  write the first line as "[May] God keep you and
          However, not many people liked them as they     to them.), when the Christmas celebrations     continue to make you successful and
          were all written and sung in Latin, a language  began.                                         prosperous, Gentlemen" but that would be hard
          that the normal people couldn't understand. By         Also, at this time, many orchestras and  to sing!
          the time of the Middles Ages (the 1200s), most  choirs were being set up in the cities of England      The comma in the phrase should be
          people had lost interest in celebrating Christmas  and people wanted Christmas songs to sing, so  AFTER the 'merry' not BEFORE it! But it's
          altogether.                                     carols once again became popular. Many new     often put after the merry which changes the
                 This was changed by St. Francis of       carols, such as 'Good King  Wenceslas', were   meaning to make 'merry Gentleman' and so a
          Assisi when, in 1223, he started his Nativity   also written in the Victorian period.          'Merry Christmas'!
          Plays in Italy.  The people in the plays sang          New carols services were created and            The term 'Merry Christmas' might well
          songs or 'canticles' that told the story during the  became popular, as did the custom of singing  have been made very popular in 1843 from two
          plays. Sometimes, the choruses of these new     carols in the streets. Both of these customs are  different sources.
          carols were in Latin; but normally they were all  still popular today! One of the most popular         The first Christmas Card, sent in 1843
          in a language that the people watching the play  types of Carols services are Carols by        by Sir Henry Cole, had this wording on it: "A
          could understand and join in! The new carols    Candlelight services. At this service, the church  Merry Christmas and a Happy New  Year to
          spread to France, Spain, Germany and other      is only lit by candlelight and it feels very   You".
          European countries.                             Christmassy! Carols by Candlelight services are        A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
                 The earliest carol, like this, was written  held in countries all over the world.       was also published in 1843 and the phrase
          in 1410. Sadly only a very small fragment of it        The most famous type of Carol Service   'Merry Christmas' appears 21 times in the book!
          still exists. The carol was about Mary and Jesus  might be a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols,  Charles Dickens also quoted "God Rest  You
          meeting different people in Bethlehem. Most     where carols and Bible readings tell the       Merry, Gentlemen" in A Christmas Carol, but
          Carols from this time and the Elizabethan       Christmas Story. []                            changed it to: "God bless you, merry
          period are untrue stories, very loosely based on                                               gentleman! May nothing you dismay!" moving
          the Christmas story, about the holy family and      Merry Christmas and                        the comma to before the merry!
          were seen as entertaining rather than religious                                                        The Carol "We  Wish  You a Merry
          songs. They were usually sung in homes rather          Happy Christmas                         Christmas [and a Happy New Year]" is another
          than in churches! Traveling singers or Minstrels                                               old carol from the 'West Country' (South West
          started singing these carols and the words were  We wish people a 'Happy Birthday', and if     England) but was only first published in 1935
          changed for the local people wherever they      you're in the USA in November and December     and this probably confirmed the use of 'Merry
          were traveling. One carols that changed like this  you might say 'Happy Holidays', so why do we  Christmas' over 'Happy Christmas'. []
          is 'I Saw Three Ships'.                         say 'Merry Christmas' more often than 'Happy
                 When Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans    Christmas'?!                                                    WATCH
          came to power in England in 1647, the                  Saying 'Merry Christmas' rather than
          celebration of Christmas and singing carols was  'Happy Christmas' seems to go back several        THE ‘X’ ZONE CHANNEL
          stopped. However, the carols survived as people  hundred years. It's first recorded in 1534 when
          still sang them in secret. Carols remained      John Fisher (an English Catholic Bishop in the
          mainly unsung until Victorian times, when two   1500s) wrote it in a Christmas letter to Thomas
          men called William Sandys and Davis Gilbert     Cromwell in 1534 "And this our Lord God send
          collected lots of old Christmas music from      you a mery Christmas, and a comfortable, to
          villages in England.                            your heart’s desire."
                 Before carol singing in public became           There's also the carol "God Rest  You
          popular, there were sometimes official carol    Merry, Gentlemen" which dates back to the 16th
          singers called 'Waits'.  These were bands of    century in England. It comes from the  West
          people led by important local leaders (such as  Country in England and it was first published in
          council leaders) who had the only power in the  the form we know it today in 1760.
          towns and villages to take money from the              In the English language of the time, the
          public (if others did this, they were sometimes  phrase 'Rest You Merry' didn't mean simply to
          charged as beggars!). They were called 'Waits'  be happy; 'rest' meant "to keep, cause to   
          because they only sang on Christmas Eve (This
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