It’s Still Christmas, so Keep on Singing Those Christmas Carols.

outdoor manger cMaria von Trapp, whose life was immortalized in the Sound of Music wrote, “Singing at Christmas goes back to the early centuries of Christianity. It is the oldest of the innumerable folk customs still alive throughout the world during the Christmas Season.”

How did Christmas carols become part of the holy day we know as Christmas? Was it the angels that first Christmas? Was it the Church establishing December 25 as the commemoration of Jesus Christ’s birth?

We can go back to those first carolers – the angels who sang to the shepherd on a hillside in Bethlehem. Their songs were not recorded. The oldest know Christmas carol, “Veni Redemptor Gentium,” was written in the fourth century by St. Ambrose, around the time that the Church made December 25 Christmas Day. We know it as “Savior of the Nations Come,” – translated from Latin to German by Martin Luther in 1523 and to English in 1851 by William Reynolds.

After that there was a silence for almost 1,000 years. There may have been Christmas carols, but not many have been preserved. The silence was broken by Saint Francis of Assisi. Many call him the father of the Christmas carol. He wanted to find a way to make the Christmas story come alive for the common people, who could not read and had no access to the Bible or other books.

 He decided in 1223 that he would build a life-size manger scene, complete with live animals such as ox, ass, and sheep. He would get various villagers to play the roles of the Holy Family and the shepherds and wise men. Then he would have people sing songs about Christmas – so caroling was born. This is the origin of the crèche that so many of us have set up in our homes today.

 “The First Noel” is unknown in origin but is generally thought to be the oldest carol in the English language dating back to the sixteenth century.

 Before the invention of the printing press, carols were a way to communicate the Christmas story and pass it from one generation to another. An example of this is “The Twelve Day of Christmas,” which was written for English Catholics to illustrate the truths of their faith during a time of persecution. One partridge in a pear tree – God’s gift of love to mankind: the advent of Jesus and His death on the cross. Two turtle doves – the Old and the New Testaments. Three French horns – the Christian virtues of faith, hope and charity, or the Holy Trinity. Four calling birds – the four Gospels. Five gold rings – the first five books of the Old Testament telling the story of man’s fall from grace. Six geese a laying – the six days of creation. Seven swans a-swimming – the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Eight maids a-milking – the eight Beatitudes. Nine ladies dancing – the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit. Ten lords a-leaping – the Ten Commandments. Eleven pipers piping – the eleven faithful disciples. Twelve drummers drumming – the twelve points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed.

 These are only three of the many carols that are sung during the Christmas Season. As we continue sing these and so many others during the Christmas Season, which doesn’t end until January 12, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, let them to speak to your heart. If you are in the area around Saint John Bosco Parish in Parma Heights – plan to join us on Sunday, January 5 at 2:00 pm in the Church for an hour of Christmas Music with our Music Ministry and Choir, followed by a Christmas cookie social in the Bell Tower. Everyone’s welcome to celebrate the music of the season!

 Question – Are you still singing the songs of Christmas in your home? What is your favorite Christmas carol?

January 1st, 2014 |