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Christmas carols offer more than just a catchy tune

Posted: December 10, 2010 8:54 a.m.
Updated: December 10, 2010 5:00 a.m.

I love this time of the year! Riding through town, seeing the Christmas Lights, and seeing the hustle-and-bustle of holiday shopping, but most of all, I love the Christmas music. I don’t know what it is about that type of music, but it seems to always put people in a better mood. After doing some reading on traditional Christmas music, I found some very interesting facts.

Christmas music comprises a variety of genres of music normally performed or heard around the Christmas season. Music was an early feature of the Christmas season and its celebrations. The earliest chants, litanies, and hymns were Latin works intended for use during the church liturgy, rather than popular songs. The joyous themes for many traditional Christmas carols were banned in England by the Protestant Oliver Cromwell and many of the very old Christmas carols and songs were then lost for all time. Christmas carols were only fully popularized again during the Victorian era when they again expressed joyful and merry themes in their carol lyrics as opposed to the normal, more serious, Christian lyrics found in hymns.

“Jingle Bells” was originally written for the Thanksgiving celebrations and has no references to things associated to Christmas. The author and composer of Jingle Bells was a minister named James Pierpoint who composed the song in 1857 for children celebrating his Boston Sunday School Thanksgiving. The song was so popular that it was repeated at Christmas.

“Silent Night” was written in 1818, by an Austrian priest Joseph Mohr. He was told the day before Christmas that the church organ was broken and would not be prepared in time for Christmas Eve. He was saddened by this and could not think of Christmas without music, so he wanted to write a carol that could be sung by choir to guitar music. He sat down and wrote three stanzas. Later that night the people in the little Austrian Church sang “Stille Nacht” for the first time.

The “Twelve Days of Christmas” was originally written to help Catholic children in England remember different articles of faith during the persecution by Protestant monarchs. The “true love” represented God, and the gifts all different ideas: The “Partridge in a pear tree” was Christ; 2 Turtle Doves represents the Old and New Testaments; 3 French Hens is Faith, Hope and Charity -- the Theological Virtues; 4 Calling Birds are the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists; 5 Golden Rings refers to the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the “Pentateuch,” which relays the history of man’s fall from grace; 6 Geese A-laying is the six days of Creation; 7 Swans A-swimming represents the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments; 8 Maids A-milking is the eight beatitudes; 9 Ladies Dancing refers to the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit; 10 Lords A-leaping are the 10 commandments; 11 Pipers Piping is the 11 faithful apostles; 12 Drummers Drumming are the 12 points of doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed.

I found it quite fascinating where the origins of these Christmas carols came from. There are more to the lyrics of these many Christmas carols. Remember, for more holiday music. Contact your local middle or high school music programs for dates of their Christmas Concerts. Dec. 12 is the Camden Community Concert Band’s Concert at Camden Auditorium. You can even just flip on the radio and enjoy!


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