DEC 19 EDITIONTrendingYuletide

The Popular Christmas Carol

By: Sophia Okiasi

Carols were first sung in Europe thousands 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 Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, usually taking place around 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 Church. Soon after this many composers all over Europe started to write ‘Christmas carols’. However, not many people liked them as they were all written and sung in Latin, a language that the normal people couldn’t understand. By the Middles Ages (the 1200s), most people had lost interest in celebrating Christmas altogether.

The earliest carol, was written in 1410. Sadly only a very small fragment of it still exists. The carol was about Mary and Jesus meeting different people in Bethlehem. Most Carols from this time and the Elizabethan period are untrue stories, very loosely based on the Christmas story, about the holy family and were seen as entertaining rather than religious songs. They were usually sung in homes rather than in churches! Traveling singers or Minstrels started singing these carols and the words were changed for the local people wherever they were traveling.

One carols that changed I Saw Three Ships’ Before carol singing in public became popular, there were sometimes official carol singers called ‘Waits’. These were bands of people led by important local leaders (such as council leaders) who had the power in the towns and villages to take money from the public (if others did this, they were sometimes charged as beggars!). They were called ‘Waits’ because they only sang on Christmas Eve (This was sometimes known as ‘watchnight’ or ‘waitnight’ because of the shepherds were watching their sheep when the angels appeared to them.), when the Christmas celebrations began. Also, at this time, many orchestras and choirs were being set up in the cities of England and people wanted Christmas songs, so carols once again became popular.

Many new carols, such as ‘Good King Wenceslas’, were also written in the Victorian period. New carol services were created and became popular, as did the custom of singing carols on the streets. Both of these customs are still popular today! One of the most popular types of Carols services are Carols by Candlelight services. At the service, the church is only lit with candlelight and everywhere is boisterous with Christmas frenzy. Carols by Candlelight services are held in countries all over the world.


Silent Night

The words of Silent Night were written by a Priest called Fr. Joseph Mohr in Mariapfarr, Austria, in 1816 and the music was added in 1818, by his school teacher friend Franz Xaver Gruber, for the Christmas service at St. Nicholas church in Oberndorf, Austria. Fr. Mohr asked Franz Gruber to compose the melody with a guitar arrangement. It was several years later that Franz Gruber wrote an arrangement for the organ. Historians who have conducted research in recent years believe that Fr. Mohr wanted a new carol that he could play on his guitar. The original words of the song were in German (and it was called ‘Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht’) and translated to English thus:
Silent night, holy night!

All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,

Sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia,
Christ the Saviour is born!
Christ the Saviour is born.
Silent night, holy night!
Son of God love’s pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth.
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth.

It’s thought that the song might have traveled around the area with an organ repairman, Karl Mauracher, who could have taken an early arrangement with him in about 1820. Then two singing families (like the ‘Von Trappes’ in The Sound of Music) seem to have discovered the song and performed it as part of their concerts. In December 1832, the Strasser family performed it at a concert in Leipzig. It was first performed in the USA in 1839 by the Rainer family, who sang ‘Stille Nacht’ at the Alexander Hamilton Monument outside Trinity Church in New York City. During this time the tune changed to the one we know and sing today!

By the time that the carol was famous, Fr Mohr had died. Franz Gruber wrote to music authorities in Berlin saying that he had composed the tune, but no one believed him and it was thought that Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven had written it! But then the 1820 manuscript was found and in the top right corner Fr Mohr had written: ‘Melodies von Fr. Xav. Gruber.’

It’s now one of the most, recorded Carol songs in the world and has got over 100 versions.


The Twelve Days of Christmas’ was written in England at the beginning of this time. Some people think that it was written to help children learn about their Catholic religion. In the carol, the days are supposed to represent special symbols and have hidden meanings, because it was illegal to have anything in writing that would indicate that you were a Catholic. But there’s NO evidence that this is true and it seems most likely just to be a folk song and that the special ‘Catholic’ meanings were added at a MUCH later date! Also, all the symbols can be used by Protestants and other Christians, not just by Catholics! There was another song called ‘A New Dial’ (also called ‘In Those Twelve Days’), which goes back as far as at least 1625, which gave religious meanings to the 12 Days of Christmas, but NOT so people could practice their faith is secret.

If you’d like to know more about this, please go to the 12 Days of Christmas page on The 12 Days of Christmas refer to the twelve day period that starts with Christmas day and ends on Epiphany (6th January). The song begins, On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me… In ‘A New Dial’ (and the legend/myth of the song having secret meanings), The ‘true love’ was meant to represent God, the true love of the world. The ‘me’ was meant to represent man or woman who receives these presents. The other meanings are given in ‘A New Dial’ are: (Extra item in brackets are extra meanings from the myth!)
The ‘partridge in a pear tree’ means God. (In ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, it can also mean Jesus
who died on the cross. In ancient times a partridge was often used as mythological symbol of a divine, sacred king. Partridges weren’t introduced into England, from France, until the 1770s, which also points to any extra meanings being added later!)

The ‘two turtle doves’ are the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.

The ‘three French hens’ are the Christian Trinity: God the Father, His Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit. (The hens could also mean faith, hope and love – the three gifts of the Holy Spirit. [See 1 Corinthians 13]; or the Wise men who visited Jesus; or the three gifts they brought him!)

The ‘four calling birds’ (originally ‘four collie birds’ – an old name for Blackbirds!) are the four Gospels in the New Testament of the Bible. (They could also mean the four major Old Testament prophets [Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel]; or the four horsemen of the Apocalypse!)

The ‘five golden rings’ are the five senses. (They could also mean first five books of the Bible also called the Pentateuch, the Books of Moses or the Torah.)

The ‘six geese a-laying’ are the six days of creation.

The ‘seven swan a swimming’ are the seven ‘liberal arts’ studied in medieval universities. (They could also mean the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. [See 1 Corinthians 12:8¬11, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 4:10-11])

The ‘eight maids a milking’ are the eight beatitudes, Jesus’ teachings on happiness. (See Matthew 5:3-10)

The ‘nine ladies dancing’ are the nine muses from Greek Mythology. (The ladies dancing could also mean fruits of the Holy Spirit. [See Galatians 5:22])

The ‘ten lords a-leaping’ are the Ten Commandments in the Bible.

The ‘eleven pipers piping’ represent eleven thousand [meaning a lot of people] who had been martyred (killed) for the Christian faith. (The pipers piping could also mean the eleven faithful disciples of Jesus.)

The ‘twelve drummers drumming’ were the twelve disciples of Jesus (They could also mean the twelve points of the Apostles’ Creed!)

How many gifts are there in total in the 12 Days of Christmas?

If you were receiving all the presents in the song, you’d get 364!
Day 1 – receive 1 gift
Day 2 – receives 3 additional gifts,
making 4 total gifts
Day 3 – receives 6 additional gifts,
making 10 total gifts
Day 4 – receives 10 additional gifts,
making 20 total gifts
Day 5 – receives 15 additional gifts,
making 35 total gifts
Day 6 – receives 21 additional gifts,
making 56 total gifts
Day 7 – receives 28 additional gifts,
making 84 total gifts
Day 8 – receives 36 additional gifts,
making 120 total gifts
Day 9 – receives 45 additional gifts,
making 165 total gifts
Day 10 – receives 55 additional gifts,
making 220 total gifts
Day 11 – receives 66 additional gifts,
making 286 total gifts
Day 12 – receives 78 additional gifts,
making 364 total gifts


Joy to the world, the Lord has come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing, and
heaven and nature sing
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing
Joy to the world, the Savior reigns
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy
No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found
Far as, far as the curse is found
He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love, and wonders of love
And wonders, wonders of His love
Angels from the Realms of Glory
Angels from the realms of glory,
Wing your flight o’er all the earth;
Ye who sang creation’s story,
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth:
Come and worship,
Come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King!
Shepherds, in the fields abiding,
Watching o’er your flocks by night,
God with man is now residing,
Yonder shines the infant Light;
Come and worship,
Come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King!

O Holy Night

O holy night the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angels’ voices O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night divine o night O night divine
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angels’ voices O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night divine o night O night divine Ooh yes it was
Ooh it is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah, yeah It was a holy holy holy, oh oh oh

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