Go Caroling Day

December 20 is the day to go out caroling. The practice seems to have fallen out of favor in more recent years, and is more likely to happen in nursing homes and malls, than just in neighborhoods. One way to enjoy caroling now is in old movies such as A Christmas Carol, where there are almost always singers, perhaps just so Ebenezer Scrooge can knock them out of the way as he storms past.

Songs are often associated with religious celebrations, and so it is not surprising that the oldest Christmas carols are religious in nature. For a long time, the songs of Christmas were sung in Latin, but St Francis of Assisi changed that with his Nativity Plays, where songs were sung in the native language of the listeners. The earliest carol like this was written in 1410. Only a small fragment of it still exists. The carol was about Mary and Jesus meeting different people in Bethlehem.

However, carols we still sing today began in the eighteenth century. One of them is “Good King Wenceslas.” You can find a delightful edition of it by the Irish Rovers here. Some other carols written during or before that time include “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” (1749), “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” (1739), “Angels We Have Heard on High,” (1852), and “The First Noel,”(1823).

Today, one of the most popular ways of singing carols is at a Christmas Eve service by candlelight. There is also the “Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols,” which has nine Bible readings (or lessons), that tell the Christmas story, with one or two carols between each lesson. It has been broadcast from King’s College, Cambridge every year since 1931, and to my mind, it wouldn’t be Christmas without it. So sing yourself a carol or two or more today.

Some lyrics from Christmas Carols. Usually, the name of the carol is part of the first line.

Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!

Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plains,
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains.
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

The first Nowell the Angel did say
Was to three poor Shepherds in fields as they lay.
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep,
In a cold winter’s night that was so deep.
Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell,
Born is the King of Israel.

Verses 3&4 of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth, I said,
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold!
Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From heaven’s all gracious King!
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing.

O come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him,
Born the King of angels;
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
O Come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

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