Christmas songs and caroling are a longtime holiday tradition though their exact start cannot be placed with certainty. Many sources, however, do agree that caroling probably started as a pagan custom, which was then adapted by Christians.
Christian carols, commemorating Christ’s birth, first appeared around the 4th and 5th centuries and were written in Latin. St. Francis of Assisi is credited with making carol more upbeat in the 12th century, adding religious lyrics to well-known tunes. These contrasted greatly with the previously more somber songs.
Carols did not catch on quickly, according to WhyChristmas.com, since the average person did not speak Latin. However, once carols began to appear in common languages like English, French, Spanish and German, they grew in popularity.
In England after Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans came to power, the celebration of Christmas and the singing of carols was banned from 1649 to 1660. Much of these sentiments travelled across the Atlantic with the Massachusetts Bay Colony fining individuals found observing Christmas.
For much of the English speaking world, caroling would not come back into popularity until the Victorian Era.
Today, caroling is still very much a part of the Christmas tradition with groups, including school choirs, churches, youth organizations and service organizations, keeping the tradition going. Carolers can be found at different holiday events, out and about in different communities, or visiting nursing homes and retirement homes to spread holiday cheer.
Carols do not only feature images of the nativity but also secular themes that relate to the season.
Popular religious carols include “Silent Night,” “Away in a Manger,” “O Holy Night” and “Joy to the World” while some secular hits include “Blue Christmas,” “Santa Baby,” “Let it Snow,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
Nowadays, carolers can easily find lyrics to Christmas songs through a simple Google search, helping them prepare before setting out.