In our annual Christmas article, this year we take a look at 10 of the most popular Christmas Carols that are joyfully, and sometimes overly, sung at this time of the year. We are sure that you will be familiar with most of these on the list and maybe we have missed your personal favourite off the list, if we have why not let us know in the comment section, what your favourite Christmas Carol is.
What is a Carol?
The word carol is defined as a noun when it is used to describe ‘a religious folk song or popular hymn, particularly one associated with Christmas.’ It is also defined as a verb as follows:
- To sing or say (something) happily.
- To sing Christmas carols.
Any Christmas song might be called a ‘Carol’ these days, however the word actually refers to an ancient English song-form that sees a refrain repeated after every stanza (or verse) and usually connected to celebrations in this case, Christmas.
Let’s take a look at some Christmas Carols:
In the Bleak Midwinter
In the Bleak Midwinter is a poem by Christina Rosetti written in 1872 under the title ‘A Christmas Carol’. It was Gustav Holst who set it to music in a piece entitled ‘Cranham’ in the year 1906, it is this that is widely used around the world today.
In our hometown, of Cirencester, we know that Christmas has fully arrived at the Advent light switch on as this carol is chosen annually to be sung.
The verses of the carol takes the singer on a journey from the physical state of affairs in Bethlehem, through the comparison of Jesus’ first and second coming. It continues onto the place of Christ’s birth and the simplicity of the surroundings of the stable. During the last verse of the carol, Rosetti describes a more introvert thinking process.
We think this is a classic carol, do you agree?
Deck the Halls
Deck the Halls has a very Home Nation feel about it as the melody is Welsh, dating back to the sixteenth century, belonging to a carol entitled ‘Nos Glan’. The English lyrics were written by the Scottish musician Thomas Oliphant in 1862.
The original words make mention of drinking, but the most commonly sung version does not include any such mention, and this version dates back to 1877 in an episode of the Pennsylvania School Journal.
It has become one of the most popular tunes to be sung at this time of year, and features in a wide range of Christmas movies. The song has also given it’s mane to a Christmas movie about 2 warring neighbours starring Danny Devito and Matthew Broderick.
All together now……….
We Wish you a Merry Christmas
The popularity of this carol is close to home for us, thanks to Bristol based composer, conductor, and organist Arthur Warrell. He arranged the song in 1935 for his own University of Bristol Madrigal Singers, his composition was also published by the Oxford University Press in the same year!
It is unclear when this carol actual started, but the greeting ‘a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year can be traced back to the early eighteenth century. It is highly thought that the origins lie in the English tradition of wealthy people giving carollers gifts of Figgy Pudding on Christmas Eve. This would bear some truth if the lyrics are taken literally as the carollers sing that they ‘won’t go until they get some’!
Here at The Training Fox we very much do Wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
In the Autumn of 1857 one of the most commonly known and sung American songs was born under the title ‘The One Horse Open Sleigh’ written by James Lord Pierpont. It has been claimed that it was written to be sung by a Sunday School Choir for Thanksgiving, although this has not been proved! The song has no original connection to Christmas, but became associated with Christmas and Winter music in the 1860s and 1870s.
The interesting fact about Jingle Bells is that it was one of the first songs to be played in Space on December 16th 1965.
Jingle Bells is fondly sung by children up and down the country today during their nativity plays, however these are created and scripted in the modern world.
O’ Christmas Tree, (Tannenbaum)
One of our favourite uses of this distinctive Christmas Carol is during the first scene that we meet Ernest in Ernest Saves Christmas, a Christmas movie that seems to be widely forgotten by the television channels and streaming services sadly. During the scene Ernest is seen singing the song while driving his yellow cab, upon finding a stray tree on the road, where he then does what he can to save to the tree and take it home with him. If you can find it this is definitely a Christmas film to watch this year!
O Tannenbaum is a German Christmas song, although not based on a Christmas tree. The lyrics actually refer to the tree’s evergreen quality as a symbol of consistency and faithfulness. The word Tannenbaum means fir tree.
It was in the 19th Century when the custom of a Christmas tree developed that the song began to be seen as a carol, and as they say the rest is history!
12 Days of Christmas
A popular song that is sung and used through the advent period is the 12 Days of Christmas, most people will be able to name the first 6/7 gifts that ‘my true love gave to me’, however beyond this point many get confused.
The 12 Days of Christmas was first used in around 1780 and there are a few versions with subtle differences in the gifts, however our list below seems to be the most familiar, possibly with the exception of 4 Colly Birds as opposed to 4 Calling Birds.
The song leads up to the Epiphany, which is the 6th January and tradition says that Christmas decorations should be taken down on this day; Not a day before nor after. If any decorations are left up beyond this point, they should then remain up all year round, otherwise it is bad luck.
Below we have explored the song gifts and have calculated how many gifts are given in total in the song!
12 Partridge in a Pear Tree,
22 Turtle doves,
30 French Hens,
36 Calling Birds,
40 Gold Rings,
42 Geese a-laying,
42 Swans a-swimming,
40 Maids a-Milking,
36 Ladies Dancing,
30 Lords a-Leaping,
22 Pipers Piping,
12 Drummers Drumming
364 total gifts given to me by my true love!
O Come All Ye Faithful
This particular carol is interesting as it has been attributed to several different authors, these include:
- King John IV of Portugal (1604–1656),
- John Reading (1645–1692),
- John Francis Wade (1711–1786), and
- Anonymous Cistercian monks.
The earliest printed version of the lyrics however is found in a book by Wade dating back to 1751. It is however more commonly thought of that the Cistercian Monks wrote it, but again it is debated as to which region of this order, be it German, Portuguese or Spanish.
Originally there were just the 4 verses, but these were added to in the 18th Century. Written originally in Latin, they have been translated into many languages other the years, and the original 4 verses were most notable translated by English Catholic priest Frederick Oakeley.
Hark! the Herald Angels Sing
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing dates back to 1739, and is a English carol. It is based on a chapter of the Bible:
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’
The carol tells of the angelic chorus singing praises to God. It was original entitle Hymn for Christmas Day.
There are many versions of the lyrics that have been adapted over the years with the music coming from a cantata written by Mendelssohn to commemorate Johann Gutenberg’s invention of movable type print. The music that we know and enjoy today has been adapted from Mendelssohn’s original by English Musician William H. Cummings in order to fit the lyrics.
No look at carols at is complete without the inclusion of this Christmas Carol. It is probably the best well known of all time, although there is no research to prove this.
Silent Night became in 1818, written by Franz Xaver Gruber to lyrics by Joseph Mohr in the small town of Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria. It was first recorded in 1905, and has since been used in many films, successful recordings and has been quoted in other musical compositions.
Silent Night is sometimes referred to by its German origins Stille Nacht or heilige Nacht.
Many notable musicians and bands have had a hit or a B-side with this song over the years ranging from ‘The King’ Elvis Presley right through to Josh Groban and beyond. It really is one of those go to carols at this time of year!
Once in Royal David’s City
This Christmas Carol started life as a poem written by Cecil Frances Alexander in 1848 published in her hymn book, Hymns for Little Children. A year later it was discovered and set to music by an English organist Henry Gauntlett.
Although Henry Gauntlett set many thousands of Hymns to music, his musical work for this carol is called Irby, and is by far his most known piece of work.
Once in Royal David’s City has been the opening carol for the Christmas Eve service at King’s College Chapel, Cambridge since the service began in 1919.
It is one of those carols that everyone knows at least the first verse to, and the music is instantly recognisable!
All it leaves us to do is to wish you enjoyment of watching Carols from Kings on Christmas Eve,
To wish you all, our,
Customers, Suppliers, Family and Friends
A VERY Merry Christmas
Happy New Year for 2023.