The Legend of Caroling
A carol is a song of rejoicing associated with festive
occasions and religious celebrations. The word
originally meant a circle dance accompanied by a song.
Carols have carried on the glad tidings of Christmas
since medieval times.
Many Christmas carols were written in the 15th century.
Unlike hymns, carols are often light and gay. According
to one legend, the very first carol was sung by the
angels announcing Christ's birth to the shepherds.
Some say the tradition of caroling began as early as the
1400s when wandering minstrels performed songs in
exchange for donations to be given to the needy. Later,
the English night watchmen would sing while making their
rounds at holiday times. In the United States, carols
were limited to church until about 100 years ago. At
that time, the practice of singing door to door became
In the mid 17th century when the celebration of
Christmas was banned, the carols might have been lost
forever. But the carols were kept alive for almost 200
years by people singing them in private. With the
invention of inexpensive printing processes in the
1800s, traditional carols were published in book form.
The origins of many popular carols, including "God Rest
Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "The First Noel," are unknown.
One of the most famous carols, "Silent Night," was
written in Austria by Josef Mohr and church organist,
Franz Gruber when the church organ malfunctioned on
Christmas Eve. Hurriedly Mohr wrote the song and asked
Gruber to pick out a guitar accompaniment.