The word carol or carole is a medieval word of French and Anglo-Norman origin, believed to mean a dance song or a circle dance accompanied by singing. Broadly defined, carols express religious joy and is often associated to the Christmas season. Carols are also used to describe late medieval English songs on various subjects with a verse and refrain. Often the verse and refrain (also called burden) alternates.
History of Christmas Carols
It is unclear when the first carol was written but it is believed that circa 1350 to 1550 is the golden age of English carols and most of the carols followed the verse-refrain pattern.
During the 14th century carols became a popular religious song form. The theme often revolved around a saint, the Christ child or the Virgin Mary, at times blending two languages such as English and Latin.
By the 15th century the carol was also considered as art music. During this time, elaborate arrangements were made and carols were considered an important contribution to English medieval music. The Fayrfax Manuscript, a court songbook featuring carols, was written by the end of the 15th century. The songs were written for 3 or 4 voices and themes were mostly on the Passion of Christ.
By the 16th century though, the popularity of carols faltered, almost disappearing entirely if not for the revival that happened by the middle of the 18th century. Most of the carols we know today were written during this period.
Though there are various explanations about the real History of Christmas, True History of Christmas attempts to explore the actual history behind it.
True History of Christmas is replete with numerous mythical stories. The story of Nativity or the birth of Christ as depicted in the Gospel of Luke is all about the journey of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus in order to attend the census ordered by the Roman emperor Augustus. They journeyed for 4-5 days and took shelter in a stable, where Mary delivered baby Jesus.
The Gospel of Matthew refers to the story of the Magi or the three wise men that arrived in Bethlehem by observing a specific star in the night sky. This is known as the Star of Bethlehem. Incidentally they entered into King Herod’s palace and enquired about the birth of young Messiah (Savior). The deceitful Herod at once became worried about his being dethroned. He directed the Magi to continue their journey and inform him if they could trace the birth of such young king. The star of Bethlehem directed the Magi to the manger of the baby Jesus. They offered their gifts and paid homage to their Lord. But the Magi didn’t inform Herod as they got a divine warning. An angel told Joseph to flee with his family to Egypt. Meanwhile, Herod ordered that all male children of Bethlehem under the age of 2 be killed.
The actual Christmas History does not mention the exact date of birth of Christ. It may occur between the time of the first appearance of the star and the arrival of Magi in Herod’s court during (6-4BC).
True Christmas History interprets Dec.25 as the Day of Feast. This is because the Roman pagan sun god Mithras’ birthday as well as the date of the Annunciation (March25, AD 29) of Christ fell on this day.