A Brief History of Christmas Carols - Demo My Song

A Brief History of Christmas Carols

Ever wondered how Christmas carols came to be? The answer might surprise you! When we think of Christmas carols, we can conjure up some kind of image with children all bundled up in the Winter months, warming the hearts of onlookers and passersby with their seasonal song. But how did it all come to be? Where do carols come from?

To start off, a carol is a festive song of praise or joy. The word is derived from the Old French word carole, a circle dance accompanied by singers. Caroles were dance songs from the mid-12th to the mid-14th century. They later became a little more official in their use through their presence in festivals.

While it may appear shocking to some, carols were not originally composed for religious purpose or with messages of religious connotation/intent. In its original use, the carol was written during all four seasons, as a means of expressing thanks and gratitude. An example of this secular, pagan practice is the use of caroling during the celebration of the Festival of Yule, when Northern Europeans would come together to celebrate the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. with this pagan practice so close to Christmas time, early Christians took over the pagan melodies and rewrote the lyrics for there to be religious context and meaning. This practice of adopted pagan rituals, reassigning religious messages, and distributing this almost copyrighted product is not the first of its kind. The same goes for Christmas trees and Christmas caroling.

Christmas carols - where do they come from?
Christmas carols - where do they come from?

Fun Fact: The evergreen fir tree was used as a decorative piece during the pagan winter festivals as a reminder of the highly anticipated spring season to come. Christians later used the foliage as a symbol of everlasting life with God.

While there is a lot of mystery surrounding the origins of Christmas caroling, there are many theories as to where the practice originated. Wassailing, an Old Norwegian term, refers to the act of dressing in shawls and top hats, going door to door and spreading Christmas spirit through religious song. Caroling is an oral tradition passed down from generation to generation. While caroling is down today for charitable reasons, caroling was believed to be conducted by poor citizens in feudal societies who would sing in exchange for food. Another theory suggests that carolers took to the streets because originally churches did not allow parishioners to engage in singing during worship.

Whether you are engaging in caroling or simply appreciating those who do, all can agree that caroling is an important piece in spreading the Christmas spirit. Have any fun caroling stories you’d like to share? We’d love to hear all about them in the comments section below!


Abramson, Sam. “Why Do Christmas Carolers Walk around the Neighborhood Singing?” HowStuffWorks, HowStuffWorks, 21 Nov. 2007, people.howstuffworks.com/culture-traditions/holidays-christmas/christmas-caroler.htm

Cooper, James. “The History of Christmas Carols.” Whychristmas?com, 2000, http://www.whychristmas.com/customs/carols_history.shtml. Cooper, James. “The History of Christmas Trees.” Whychristmas?com, 2000, http://www.whychristmas.com/customs/trees.shtml.

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