Looking at the History of Carols..
In looking at the history of carols, we can find no better expert than the late Maria Augusta Trapp who’s life story became known as “The Sound of Music.”
On a South American Christmas concert tour in Caracas, Venezuela, she wrote, ” Singing at Christmas goes back to the early centuries of Christianity. It is the oldest of those innumerable folk customs still alive throughout the world during the Christmas season. Books have been filled, years have been spent in research on this subject.”
The early Christmas music compositions are regarded as chants and hymns. The original carols referred to a circle dance which did not have any singing – that came later. As the church struggled against the influences of pagan customs, the singing of carols was barred from sacred services. However, outside the church, Nativity carols were written and became popular. Nearly all were simple folk songs created by people from the countryside.
Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with bringing carols into the formal worship of the church during a Christmas Midnight Mass in a cave in Greccio, in the province of Umbria in 1223. It’s said that the music sung that night was more akin to what we know as carols than to hymns. Carols enjoyed further development and popularity when they were used in the mystery plays of the Middle Ages.
Wandering minstrels traveled from hamlet to castle, performing carols in the distant past. In later years, villages had their own bands of waits.
Waits were originally watchmen who patrolled the streets and byways of the old walled cities keeping guard against fire and singing out the hours of the night. During the holiday season, they would include some carols for the people along the way, although some folks complained that they would rather get a good nights sleep than have somebody singing under their window. Eventually the term was used to describe groups of musicians who sang and played for various civic events during the Christmas season.
Today, a look at a small-town newspaper lists dozens of caroling events, not just on Christmas Eve, but throughout the holiday.