Thursday, December 1, 2016
One of the delightful holiday traditions that is enjoyed by people around the world is caroling, which has an obscure history with frequent "it may have been" in the articles I've read. The one thing I do know is people enjoying singing and listening to music and that has a history which reaches back to the earliest days of human interaction.
The word carol means a dance or a song and was associated with the breaking of the winter solstice when days become longer and darkness fades. Another word associated with the carols is noel. Noel is French and means Christmas song or hymn.
The best I could discover is that singing stories of the Christian tradition may have begun in the 4th century, but the words or chants were in Latin, which was the language of the church. It wasn't until the 13th century when joyful music as opposed to the secular or more somber music because the spirit of the day, at least on the streets and in the homes of people where some of the songs we know today originated.
The early street singers were called "waits" and strolled the streets on Christmas Eve. They were celebrating the shepherds who on "wait night or watch night" were the first to learn of the birth as they watched their sheep. In non-religious terms the singers may have been waiting to be invited in for a warm drink and little gifts from the householder in appreciation of their efforts.
Strolling singers may have originated from an earlier custom of "wassailing." A troop of singers would travel from town to town singing songs in the regional languages which everyone could understand. They sang for their food, shelter, and a few coins before they moved on to the next village.
Caroling from house to house during the holidays didn't become universally popular until the 19th century when the songs were collected and published so they could be enjoyed by everyone. New songs were written, some like the lovely "What Child is This?" was written in 1865 to be sung to the old folk tavern melody of "Greensleeves."
My efforts at caroling was not singing, but with a small band of my classmates. We had a trumpet, two saxophones, a clarinet, and a drum. We visited homes (outside) and a residence for the elderly that treated us to hot chocolate and cookies. One night at the nursing home, unknown to us, there was a dog in the basement. When we started playing the dog began to howl. It continued through the entire concert, which we managed to complete despite time-outs for giggles.
People ask us where we get the ideas for writing and sometimes I'm at a loss to give them a decent answer, but this article started from seeing a group of dolls in several sizes on the shelves of an antique shop. They were carolers with their mouths shaped in song, each dressed in 19th century clothing. I wrote the owner and asked him if he could take some pictures of some and send then to me because I wanted to do an article on caroling for the holidays. We thank him for sharing his collection and allowing us to use one of his photographs for this post about the traditions of the holidays.
If you enjoyed the Byer's Choice dolls and would like to include some of them in your holiday decorations they are located at Jerry Sampson's Antiques and Books at 107 S. Main St., Harrodsburg, KY 40330. His phone number is 1-859-734-7829.