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.

The First Noel Noel is a French word originating from Latin meaning “birthday.” The song tells a vivid narrative story of the birth of Christ. All six verses are needed to complete the entire event when the hymn is sung. The sixth verse tells us to join together to sing praises to God for the marvels of His creation and for the salvation provided through Christ’s shed blood. The repetition of the joyous “noel” in the refrain is equivalent to our singing out “happy birthday” to someone. It became a favorite for Englishmen to sing on Christmas Eve in the 1820s.
Silent Night. Notabley one of the most popular songs, for a long time its history was was a mystery. The traditional story is that Rev. Josef Mohr  and Franz Xaver Gruber () wrote it in Oberndorf, Austria, on Christmas Eve when they discovered the church organ was damaged (different versions say it rusted out, or mice chewed through vital parts.) However that is all made up. In a letter by Gurbers son, he wrote “During the time when my father was the organist of the church of St Nikola, there was a very poor almost unusable organ there. This may well explain why the Reverend Mohr preferred to accompany the carol on a well-tuned guitar than on an off-pitch organ.”  A manuscript that has reportedly been discovered  shows Rev. Mohr wrote the lyrics in 1816, and that Franz Gruber wrote the score two years later. In his later years, Mohr acknowledged his authorship of “Silent Night” to Andreas Winkler, who wrote to the Salzburger Chronik in1897.
O Come All Ye Faithful. I love this song, but its history is so conflicting I have no Idea what is true. The original lyrics of the carol have been attributed to the Franciscan Order of monks and the 13th century Italian theologian Saint Bonaventure, and to various authors from the 14th to the 17th centuries. A royal author has also been proposed .According to another source, the hymn was briefly known as the Portuguese Hymn, as it was frequently played during the visits of the King’s daughter Catherine of Braganza to England in the mid 17th century, during her courtship of future husband, King Charles II. Other suggested authors have included the composers Handel, Gluck, and Thomas Arne. However, the evidence for any of these is very limited, and there is no clear proof of the existence of the lyrics before the middle of the 18th century.
Go Tell It on the Mountain. The general consensus is that ‘Go Tell it on the Mountain’ was first written by a slave and had been sung by slaves or ex-slaves since 1865. The song did take on a different life in the 1960s when the great folk group Peter Paul and Mary rewrote some lyrics to turn it into a civil rights anthem, and it has become a popular song with children too. These diverse themes mean the song has been sung in a wider range of settings than almost any other ‘carol’ including concert halls and schools, on protest marches, and of course in churches. I love it for its gospel feel,
Do you have some favorites? I would love for you to share their histories with me.

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