Let the musical clock begin.
In my house, it is sort of an unwritten rule that the playing of Christmas music does not start until after the previous holiday is done.
So despite a number of retail establishments having the accessories for the December holiday on display since Halloween, my official go time starts now.
From the bu-bu-buing of Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas” to the beauty and grace of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite,” the music Christmas carols bring is an essential part of the holiday season.
The basic carol is set up like this. There are a set of lines that are sung at the beginning of the carol and repeated after each stanza.
The earliest existing carol does not follow this pattern, however.
It is in the Anglo-Norman language and refers to the drinking customs of the period:
“To English ale, and Gascon wine
And French, doth Christmas much incline
And Anjou’s too;
He makes his neighbor freely drink,
So that in sleep his head doth sink
Often by day.
May joys flow from God above
To all those who Christmas love.
Lords, by Christmas and the host
Of this mansion bear by toast
Drink it well
Each must drain his cup of wine
And I the first will toss off mine:
Thus I advise;
Here then I bid you all Wassail
Cursed be he who will not say Drinkhail.”
Different countries have unique customs when it comes to caroling.
In England, groups of carolers, called “waits,” sing under windows and before doorsteps on Christmas Eve. The terms “waits” may come from waiting — waiting for the angels’ heralding of Jesus Christ’s birth. Often these carolers would travel the neighborhoods in a wagon, carrying small instruments. It is customary to reward the singers with food or money.
The French carols are known as “noels.” People put lighted candles in their windows so carolers would stop and sing for them. The poor usually sing in the streets and gracious listeners toss money to them from windows.
Shepard’s come down from the mountains in Italy and sing for the villagers. Often they are accompanied by bagpipes. They also sing before the “Shrines of the Virgin Mary” in Rome.
In Spain, families sing at home around the nativity scene. Also, on Christmas afternoon, everyone attends a special church service where the choirboys dance and sing before the alter.
In Germany, families sing around the Christmas tree.
In Poland, carolers carry stars.
In Holland, the carolers also carry stars, but the singers go through the streets during the weeks before Christmas to collect money to give to the poor.
Beginning the day after Thanksgiving, there isn’t a day that goes by in the United States that Christmas music isn’t heard through the voices of children, radio or television.
But it wasn’t always that way. In the early 17th century, puritans outlawed the singing of carols. Today they are an essential part of the holiday celebration.
It is the variety of music that makes listening to it so special. Whether the beloved “White Christmas” is being sung in its most recognizable form by Bing Crosby or a rag-tag barbershop quartet during London’s annual Olde Fashioned Christmas, we can’t get enough of this music.
It is after all, the most wonderful time of the year.
Jeff Gates has been a freelance writer for The Madison Press since 1996. Future column suggestions and/or comments? Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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