The Lost Tradition of Caroling

When it comes to Christmas I am very much a traditionalist; I love everything and anything that takes me back to precious memories of simpler times before the Yule tide season became a commercialized profit center for which annual retail budgets are formulated.  Don’t take me wrong, I appreciate many of today’s attempts to recreate something reminiscent of Christmases past, but for me, you can keep your modern TV specials and recycled Hallmark movies and give me Rudolph, Frosty and Andy Williams Holiday specials.  Perhaps my middle age is showing.

One of my favorite holiday traditions is that of Christmas caroling.  I recall in my younger years going out with the youth group and caroling for others, or going to events just to watch and listen to other carolers.  I have fond memories of Christmas Eve services that were less professional production and simple children in homemade costumes recreating the nativity followed by a heartfelt carol sing of all the timeless songs going back hundreds of years.  I even performed once in a Madrigal dinner and may or may not have been seen caroling in medieval tights!  Sadly, the tradition of caroling at Christmas seems to be fading away, and in certain places, banned altogether.  It is for me, a tradition that can’t be replaced by more current popular trends.

There is no clear origins as to the history of caroling, although there are several theories. Some will say Christians hijacked the tradition from Pagans and their Winter Solstice celebration.  Some date songs about the birth of Christ back to the 4th century while others credit Saint Francis of Assisi of incorporating them into his liturgies.  Some link carols to the holiday practice of wassailing, when poorer people sang for food and were given hot wassail, a thick spiced drink to keep them warm.  whatever the case, carols have traditionally been songs of joyful worship sung in churches and public places  reflecting on a very Holy Night that started it all.

Carols were penned during a time most of us could never understand.  There was a certain purity and a level of depth from which all spiritual songs flowed that has never been replicated. These Christian standards were relished every bit as our National Anthem, perhaps more so.  The very first carol dates back to 129 A.D although little else is known about it or how it sounded.  But the ones most of us are more familiar with came from the 1700s and 1800s.  O Holy Night was written in 1847 and was the very first song ever played over radio waves. Silent Night was written in German in 1818. The carol we know as O Come All Ye Faithful was composed in 1861. Oh Little Town of Bethlehem was written in 1871. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear goes back to 1874.Away in a manger, 1837. One of the older classics, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen goes way back to 1760! So you can see that when we sing these songs, we are singing the same joyful worship songs that were sung by our great-great grandparents, a timeless tradition that is becoming extinct.

There is a time and a season for everything.  However, the intensity of Heaven coming down to Earth some two thousand years ago being portrayed through timeless lyrics and melodies still moves me in 2019.  I live and write from Las Vegas, NV, the capitol of high energy entertainment and top rank productions.  But when it comes to Christmas, give me a gathering of faithful believers holding lit candles and singing off key to a piano-that’s a tradition that will live forever in my past and my fondest recollections. Merry Christmas.

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