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The History Behind Christmas Carols

By: Taylor Healey

The Origins Of Christmas Carols 

The Christmas carols we know and love actually originated from pagan songs sung at the winter solstice. Winter solstice, or Yule, is one of the oldest winter celebrations on record. The celebration goes all the way back to 217 BCE. The festival was originally held to honor the planet Saturn, but now celebrates the birth of a new solar year. The pagans would gather around fires to tell stories and sing carols.  Because the carols were sung around the same time as Christmas, Christians started to put their own twist on them. The first carol intended for Christmas was written somewhere during the year 1410.  

Silent Night 

The popular carol, Silent Night was first heard on Christmas eve of 1818. It was sung during the mass at St Nicholas’s in Oberndorf. The song was composed by one of the priests, Father Joseph Mohr, and his close friend Franz Xaver Gruber. The original lyrics were written in 1816 but changed two years later just hours before the Christmas eve mass. The lyrics were adapted due to the church organ being damaged making the original impossible to play. The song was quickly spread throughout Europe making Silent Night become one of the most well-known Christmas songs today. Silent Night was officially published in 1833. The song has been translated into 300 languages in addition to having sold an estimated 500 million copies. 

Jingle Bells

The carol was once called  “The One Horse Open Sleigh” but was changed two years later to “Jingle Bells”. The song was meant to be a light-hearted song that would be sung as a carol to be sung when drinking. “Jingle Bells” had no connection to Christmas and only later became associated with it during the late 1860s. 

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