Carols An integral part of the Christmas traditions | Sunday Observer

Carols An integral part of the Christmas traditions

They help you know that the season of joy has begun. Sometimes bringing in calm and quietude and other times dance and cheer. You cannot miss the notes be it at the workplace; in a vehicle or at the market. It is part of Christmas. Carols are an integral part of the Christmas traditions. Many a popular carol has a story of its own. Let’s look at a few of the popular carols.

Silent Night (1818)

Written by a simple priest 200 years ago, it still tops today’s caroling charts. It had been translated into over 300 languag front silent for days. It played a major role in making over a 100,000 British, German, French and Belgian soldiers leave their trenches and meet in the no man’s land in fraternity during the first Christmas (1914) of the First World War (WWI). During the Christmas eve of 1914, soldiers in the front lines of the war were reportedly singing this carol with the enemy soldiers joining in from their trenches, which resulted in a wide spread unofficial truce throughout the war front.

The song was originally written in German by Josef Mohr, an Austrian Catholic priest in 1816. In 1818, looking after the parish of St Nicola in Oberndorf was when he asked a local school teacher and parish organist Franz Xaver Gruber to put music to his words. The music composed to be performed by two solo voices and a guitar, saw the song presented by Mohr and Gruber on Christmas Eve 1818, to the congregation. The song and its fame spreading from continent to continent, it has now become indispensable wherever Christmas carols are sung.

Once in Royal David’s City (1849)

This is the song which traditionally opens a formal church service of Nine Lessons and Carols. Written by Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander to answer children’s questions about the birth of Christ and published in her book of Hymns for Little Children (1848) the music was put by organist and composer Henry Gauntlett in 1849. It is the song which traditionally opens King’s College Cambridge Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. The tradition is so entrenched and the anticipation is so high it is said that the Cambridge chorister who is selected to sing the solo verse in front of the packed audience is never told of the big moment until just before the service is about to begin. The treble solo is just one highlight of this perennial favourite.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (1739 or earlier)

Of the 9,000 hymns written by Charles Wesley the brother of John Wesley, founder of Methodism this may be one which is widely known and sung throughout the world. Wesley is said to have been inspired by the sound of bells as he walked to church one Christmas morning. Perhaps that was why his original title was Hark How All the Welkin Rings. Welkin is an old word for sky or heaven. However, this title and the opening was later changed to Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. Though Wesley did not put music into the hymn, except stating that the music need be ‘solemn’ it was organist William Hayman Cummings who later adopted it to a tune by German composer Felix Mendelssohn in the 1850s.

I Saw Three Ships (1410 or earlier)

The very first carols were not of Christian tradition. They were pagan songs narrating a story and sung at the Winter Solstice celebrations for people to dance.

This is a carol written in the style of minstrels or bards, the travelling singers who went from village to village singing narrating stories in the form of song. Sung to the tune of a folk song, it speaks about three ships coming in to Bethlehem questioning as to what is in there and where they were sailing. Some scholars believe that the ships refer to the three camels used by the Magi who visited Jesus, as the camels are known as the ships in the desert. Though there is no specific lyricist named for the carol, different arrangements and adaptations have been written.

O Little Town Of Bethlehem (1868)

After a visit to the Holy Land, clergyman and poet Phillips Brooks of Philadelphia, in the U.S. had penned the carol. It was about his experience in the Holy Land. The original poem is said to have included different words. His own church organist, Lewis Redner set the music which is known as ‘St Louis,’ and usually sung in the U.S. today. However, the more popular version is an adaptation by the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, who was the music editor of the English Hymnal. Williams had wanted to include the song of Phillips Brooks in the hymnal but had hesitated as he didn’t like the tune. However, hearing a folk song about a dead cow and a delinquent cowboy sung by an old man at a pub in Surrey, UK Williams had adapted the song to the folk-tune, creating a beautiful carol appreciated by young and old alike. 

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