A Short History of the Christmas Carol
Some of our songs about Santa Claus, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, Baby Jesus, and the holiday of Christmas are probably older than you think. Can you believe that one of the oldest Christmas carols was actually put together in the 300s? That is 1,700 years ago if you need us to do the math for you. It is believed that "Of the Father's Love Begotten," written by Aurelius Prudentius may have been the first recorded Christmas carol.
Over the years, Christian leaders have created Christmas carols to sing with their congregations and neighborhoods during the Festival of Lights. There were songs by St. Francis of Assisi, and those by Italians during the days of the Renaissance. Even the English added some Christmas carols to the mix.
Christmas carols became more popular when the famous inventor Johannes Gutenberg created his printing press around the year 1447. This machine allowed copies to be made fairly easily, so paper copies of Christmas carols could be rolled off by the dozens, even hundreds, and passed around to celebrators looking for song and fun.
Of course, around this time Christmas and Christianity were serious business. Puritans and other very stringent folks frowned upon carols, so they were not entirely popular. What’s worse, most of these paper copies were destroyed over time, by age or on purpose. From 1649 to 1660 in England, when the Puritans ruled the country, Christmas carols were banned altogether.
But it wouldn’t be too long after that that one of the most famous Christmas “carols” of all time was created, the Messiah by George Frederich Handel. Handel first performed the song in 1742 in Ireland in true Santa spirit, as a fundraiser for charities.
Another famous Christmas carol was written around this time as well. “Silent Night, Holy Night,” was penned by Joseph Mohr, a priest in Austria, in 1818. He wrote the song one Christmas Eve after discovering that his church’s organ was broken. He put together a song that everyone could sing without the need for the organ, and Mohr saved Christmas for his congregation that year.
Despite all of these early songs, many of our current Christmas carols didn’t start appearing until the end of the 1800s. That’s in part because the 1800s is when Christmas as a whole really started picking up steam as a holiday, and when puritanically dislike for Santa, carols, and anything fun with Christmas started to die down.
It doesn’t hurt, as well, that technology now makes it so easy to spread the cheer with Christmas carols. First, there were records and radio, but now we have CDs, DVDs, MP3s, and the Internet to spread holiday cheer. Whether you favor classic carols like, “Silent Night, Holy Night” or new traditions like Bing Crosby’s recording of “White Christmas” (the best selling Christmas single of all time!), Christmas carols are a long-established way to help celebrate the Christmas season.
This article was posted on September 13, 2006
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