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Carols losing form?

You know it is Christmas, when carols and other music specially associated with the traditional observance of December 25 as the day when Jesus Christ was born, fill the air.

But for what it is worth, a little enlightenment for the unenlightened regarding the celebration of Jesus’ birth, should throw additional light on what we have come to know and accept.

Despite the beliefs about Christ, which the stories of His birth (Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2) have expressed, the church did not observe a festival for the celebration of the event, until the fourth Century.

Research showed that the date was chosen to counter the pagan festivities connected with the winter solstice, since 274; under the emperor Aurelian, Rome had celebrated the feast of the “Invincible Sun” on December 25. In the Eastern church, January 6, a day also associated with the winter solstice, was initially preferred.

In the course of time, however, the West added the Eastern date of Christmas. Epiphany and the East added the Western date of Christmas. Thus, the West subsequently divided the Christmas celebration between December 25 (the birth of Christ and homage of the shepherds) and January 6, the homage of the Magi).

In medieval Europe, folk customs connected with the winter solstice, were perpetuated together with the church celebration. The Puritans in England and in New England, tried to abolish Christmas, but that move was unpopular, and Christmas survived and has been developed commercially since the Industrial Revolution.

This has had the effect of pushing back the Christmas festivities in the period before Christmas. In the traditional church calendar, the pre-Christmas season of Advent, was one of quiet preparation, the festivities belonging to the Twelve Days (December 25 to January 6).

And to think of it, Christmas celebration is not complete, without the singing – or playing – of carols.

The term carol, for your information, is currently applied to a song or hymn on a Christmas theme. Probably derived from the carole, a round dance accompanied by unison singing, the carol emerged during the 14th and 15th centuries as strophic song with refrain.

Most carols are English in origin. Their connection with the church is evident in Latin segments of text (“Make we joy now in this feast, In quo Christus natus est”), with courtly ceremony (Boar’s Head Carol”), and with convivial occasions (Wassail, Wassail, “all over the town”).

Oh come all ye faithful and Angels we have heard on high are typical of carols now used in religious services. Carols composed since about 1950, usually follow the spirit, rather than the form of the traditional carol.

That is no more evident than the contemporary Christmas songs coming out of North America and the Caribbean. They are being produced in genres ranging from rock, to pop and soca/calypso to reggae.

Some may argue that the modern day Christmas music has sapped the spirit – and form – out of the yuletide celebrations, and had it not been for the “untainted” traditional carols, the feeling of Christmas would be lost. That’s another subject, for another time.†

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