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Traditional Christmas Carols

What are Christmas Carols? A typical dictionary entry would show that a Carol is a song or hymn whose lyrics have a Christmas theme. This means either the Religious theme of the Christian Nativity or the winter season in general. Carols are also traditionally sung in the period before Christmas.

Many carols are ancient and based on traditional winter songs. Many date from the 12th century when they were simply songs with an accompanying dance, In fact the word "carol" itself means ring-dance, or dancing in a circle.

Today carols tend to be divided into four different types.

The first is the serious Religious carol such as "O come all ye faithful" and " Once in Royal David's City" where they are serious, but uplifting Christmas hymns concentrating on the joyous Christian message.

The second group are the gentle Christmas lullabies such as "Silent Night" or "Away in a Manger".

The third group are the jolly Christmas songs, which are based on the birth of Jesus, such as "Ding Dong Merrily on High" but are more traditional folk songs than hymns.

The final group of carols are traditional winter songs, such as "Good King Wenceslas" which are not necessarily Religious but have been accepted as popular carols at Christmas

The traditional period when Carols were sung was from St Thomas's Day on 21 December until Christmas Day.

One of the most popular ways of celebrating Christmas all over the world is with music.

Both as part of a Religious celebration and as a time for family entertainment, Christmas is a time for inspiring songs and melodies.

In medieval England groups of musicians toured round towns and villages in the evenings before Christmas, playing and singing Christmas songs. However by the 18th century this tradition had died out.


In Victorian times local people revived this tradition and groups of carol singers went from house to house in their town or village, seranading the inhabitants.

When the Victorian family gathered together at home at Christmas carols and hymns would be sung around the piano.The most popular time for these musical evenings was on Christmas Eve.

Few carols appeared in print until the 19th century. In Victorian times the popular winter songs and existing carols were printed and readily available. Also many new hymns and seasonal songs were written and became firm Christmas favorites.