I LOVE this time of year, mostly for the music. It is the only time where all kinds of people hear about Jesus and even sing his praise, even if they don’t know that is what they are doing. Have you ever wondered where some of these carols come from? Or even where the word carol came from? If not then you can just skip this post, if yes keep skimming.
Ok lets start with the carol
Carols – the Linguistic Origins
The word ‘Carol’ is of rather uncertain derivation, but probably comes from the French word ‘carole‘ or the Latin ‘carula‘. The original meaning of the word seems to have been a ‘circle dance’ – literally, a dance form in which participants moved in a circle to the accompaniment of music or song. These were folk dances, often secular in nature, but sometimes performed in celebration of a deity or an event, and at various festive times of the year. Over time, the use of ‘carol’ to describe the folk dance was dropped in favor of using it to describe only the music, and within the Christian religion, the term was later developed much more specifically for Christmas songs of praise, usually with verses and with a repeated chorus.
Cool right! Because I am a nerd, I looked into the origins of some of my favorites.
Away in a Manger. I honestly think this is one of the first Christmas song most kids memorize. There is some debate about who wrote this, but many believe that Martin Luther did. Most sources note that the hymn first appeared with two stanzas in Little Children’s Book for Schools and Families, a Sunday school collection published in 1885. The Rev. Carlton Young, editor of the UM Hymnal, notes that the only German version of the carol is clearly a translation from the English because the metrics are not natural to the German language.This version was first included in Herbert W. Werneke’s Christmas Songs and Weihnachts-Lieder (1934), a privately published collection. So if it didnt translate well, how is it conected to Martin Luther? The original name for the song was Luther’s Cradle Hymn. HHHMMMMM
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. The carol we now know as “Hark! the herald angels sing” did not start life as such, and required at least four people to bring it to its current form. Wesley’s original, written as a Christmas Day hymn and first published in 1739, is made up of ten four-line verses, rather than the longer eight-line verses with refrain which we have now. I mean the orgial lyrics are Hark! How All the Welkin Rings, Glory to the King of Kings. Also there are 4 verse that we dont sing anymore.
Come, desire of nations, come,
Fix in us thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conquering seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Now display thy saving power,
Ruin’d nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to thine.
Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp thy image in its place.
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in thy love.
Let us thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the life, the inner man:
O, to all thyself impart,
Form’d in each believing heart.
I’m thinking there was just a little too much theology in there for a “simple” Christmas song.