Carols have long brought holiday cheer

| December 2005

  • Christmas Caroling

    Dana S. Rothstein/Fotolia

  • Christmas Caroling

Carols are a rich part of Christmas, a tradition so beautiful that some say the angels over Bethlehem were the first carolers.

The word carol means popular song, of joyful nature, in celebration of an occasion such as May Day, Easter or Christmas. The word grew out of an old French word that meant round dance with singing.

December 25 was not established as Christmas until the middle of the fourth century, and the earliest Christmas music consisted of chants and psalms.

In 1223, St. Francis of Assisi wanted to find a way to communicate the story of Christmas to the illiterate. He borrowed some animals and enlisted townsfolk to portray the shepherds, holy family and wise men.

They called his live nativity scene a crèche, and simple carols were sung. After that time, St. Francis was known as the father of the Christmas carol.

So, in the beginning, carols were a way to communicate Christian truth. An early example is 'The Twelve Days of Christmas,' from the 16th century. Through its symbolic lyrics - the 'gift' stood for the gift of Jesus as Savior, the two turtledoves were the Old and New Testament - English Catholics could express their faith.

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