Christmas 2022: Why do we sing Christmas carols? Know history and significance
As per reports, most Christmas carols sung by Christians today in the US and elsewhere were written by Jews but they aren't as old as you think. Here's why do we sing Christmas carols? Know history and significance
The English term ‘Christmas’ has a fairly recent origin and translates as ‘mass on Christ’s day’ while different countries across the globe have different names for this celebration - in Germany it is referred to as ‘Yuletide’ which may have been derived from the Germanic jōl or the Anglo-Saxon geōl, in Spanish it is referred to as Navidad, Natale in Italian and as Noël in French. As per reports, most Christmas carols sung today in the US and elsewhere were written by Jews and these American Jews felt quite inclusive with Christmas- a clear example of the growing secularisation and the cultural relativism prevalent today.
However, the best-loved Christmas carols or seasonal songs aren’t as old as you think as they were borrowed from raunchy folk songs and might even have been written for Thanksgiving. For most Christians in India, carols came from a church hymnal or a Jim Reeves album - both revered with equal fervour but not many know that they were originally folk songs — carolling originally meant “to dance in a ring” and carols were also only sung in homes, until about 150 years ago.
The Christmas carol “Deck The Halls” started life as a 16th-century Welsh song called Nos Galan, which when translated directly, the first line goes something like this, “Oh! How soft my fair one’s bosom, fa la la la la la la la la.” There are references to getting sloshed too, “Fill the mead-cup, drain the barrel, fa la la la la la la la la” and you can blame English songwriter Thomas Oliphant for the family-friendly Christmas version, written in the 1860s.
“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” poem was originally written by preacher Charles Wesley in 1739 and was a bit of a mouthful, “Hark how all the welkin rings/Glory to the King of Kings.” Some 20 years later, another preacher, George Whitefield, updated the words to the carol version we know now, which irked Wesley, who distanced himself from it.
Meanwhile, in 1850, composer Felix Mendelssohn wrote a song to celebrate 400 years of the printing press and left instructions to use the tune for a non-religious melody only. No one cared and they found Wesley’s poem a good fit for the music, as do we all.
“Jingle Bells” isn’t reportedly British or even originally a carol as “The One Horse Open Sleigh” was written in Georgia, USA, in the 1850s and was intended to celebrate Thanksgiving. That explains the distinct lack of any Christmas imagery apart from the snow and sleigh.
Some carols were even born out of the threat of war like Gloria Shayne composed “Do You Hear What I Hear?” to lyrics written by her then husband, Noël Regney. They created it in October 1962 as a plea for peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis and were opposed to the commercialism of Christmas. Whitney Houston has covered it, as have Bob Dylan, Alicia Keys, Pentatonix and scores of others. It’s still stubbornly low-key, just as they wanted.
However, with or without carols, Christmas is a time of joy and warmth, surrounded with the love of family members and the comradery of friends. After the rough years that Covid-19 pandemic and its subsequent lockdowns unleashed, we are all looking forward to the most wonderful time of the year when people across the world come together to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25.