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Christmas carols - origins & trivia

The early Christmas music compositions are regarded as chants and hymns. The original carolsChristmas 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.


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