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IN FRATERNAM MEAM
Thursday, December 21, 2006
CHRISTMAS CAROLS, OLD AND NEW
THE SINGING OF CAROLS IS THE OLDEST OF OUR CHRISTMAS CUSTOMS. IT WAS IN NO WAY "INVENTED" IN THE YEARS 1823 TO 1848, BUT IN THOSE SAME YEARS, THE ANCIENT TRADITION OF CAROLS WAS REVITALIZED AFTER NEARLY TWO CENTURIES OF SEMIDORMANCY. OLD TIME CAROLS WERE COLLECTED, TRANSLATED, ARRANGED, AND PUBLISHED, AND NEW CAROLS WERE COMPOSED.

In 1822, the year Clement Clarke Moore wrote "A Visit from St. Nicholas", a small collection was published: Some Ancient Carols, With The Times to Which They Were Formerly Sung in the West of England. The collector, Davies Gilbert, wrote wistfully in the preface:

"The Editor is desirous of preserving the following Carols or Christmas Songs in their actual forms, however distorted by false grammar or by obscurities, as specimens of times now passed away, and of religious feelings superseded by others of a different cast. He is anxious also to preserve them on account of the delight they afforded him in his childhood....."

In 1833, a major collection of more than two hundred carols was published: Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern. The collector, William Sandy's wrote a long introduction giving the history of the Christmas festival and Christmas carols. The revival of the carol was in full swing.

What is a Christmas carol?
This is not as silly a question as it may seem. Singing at festivals is as old a custom as festivals themselves. The ancient Egyptian and the Druids used music in their sacred rites, as did the Greeks and the Romans. We know from St. Paul and St. James that the earliest Christians sang psalms and hymns during their festivals and the vigils of their saints. Pliny the Younger, in a letter to Trajan in A.D. 107, wrote that the Christians "were wont to meet together on a stated day, before it was light, and sing among themselves alternately a hymn to Christ as to God".

After the church has decreed that December 25 was to be observed as the Day of Christ's Birth, the bishops were reported to have sung hymns on Christmas Day among their clergy. But were these religious songs "carols"? Skipping ahed some 1600 years to today, we sing ditties such as "Jungle Bells" and "White Christmas". But are these "carols"?

The term "Carol" originally signified songs intermingled with dancing. As time went along, it was applied to festive songs in general. And since Christmas is the most festive period in the Christian year, carols came to be thought of almost exclusively as Christmas carols.

Christmas songs have been so many and so varied that perhaps we sould settle on this definition of a crol: any song that celebrates any aspect of the Christmas season.

For a thousand years, Christmas hymns were written by the clergy in the Lation of the Church of Rome and the Greek of the Eastern Orthodox Chrurch. By the 13th century and 14th centuries, Christmas songs began to appear in the languages of the people, both on the Continent and in England. They were still maily written by clerics, who hoped to bring the meangin of Christmas closer to the people through this music.

During the period, the miracles and mystery plays also served to popularize religion, and carols were used in these plays. Soon, the royal courts became another weelspring of carols. Many of the kings, lovers of pageantry, fostered the creation and singing of carols. Henvry VIII was himself a particularly talented musician and versifier.

The 15 and 16th centuries were the golden age of the Christmas carols. Carols were central in celebration of the season, much more so than today. Secular carols featuring Christmas revelry and mirth were added to the religious and put the secular use. In Shakespear's time, waits (samll groups of singers and musicians) roamed the streets at night performing for small gifts of money. Many carols of the period are still popular today: "I Saw Three Ships:, "Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly," "The First Noel" and "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen".

During the Reformation, the Puritans tried to put a stop to the singing of all but the most pious hymns as part of their efforts to stop Christmas althogether. They were not successful, but the carol custom did nto go into decline for two centuries, along with Christmas festivities in general. However, in the 17th and 18th centries, a few great carols appeared, such as "Hark! The Herald Angles Sing", "O Come All Ye Faithful", "Joy To The World!", (lyrics only), and "The Twelve Days Of Christmas".

In 1818, "Silent Night" was created under the most cicumstances.
Place: St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, Upper Austria.
Time: The day before Christmas.
Problem: The organ had become rusted and wouldn't play. No music for the Christmas Eve service!
Solution: The assistant priest, Father Joseph Mohr, jotted down a six-stanza poem that began, "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht" and took it to the local teacher, Franz Gruber, who doubled as organist. Gruber composed a simple tune. At the service, they sang it together, Gruber accompanying on the guitar.
Thus was born one of the world's most popular Christmas carols.


(Source: INVENTING CHRISTMAS How Our Holiday Came To Be by: Jock Elliott)
posted by infraternam meam @ 10:21 AM  
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