17:19 GMT +324 March 2018
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    Brave New World

    The History of Christmas Carols

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    John Harrison
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    We are surrounded by carols this time of year, but how many of us know where they have come from? American Lyubov Zolotova, an intercultural language trainer and singer living in Moscow describes the development of carols.

    Carols represent a very old musical genre, Lyubov says. "They were first sung in Europe thousands of years ago. These were not the Christmas carols as we know them today….The origin of these songs is actually pagan, that were sung at the winter solstice celebrations, the shortest day of the year. The word ‘carol' actually means a song of praise and joy.

    "The original carols were sung in Latin….Christianity adapted a lot of pagan traditions and heritage, they embraced it and they built upon it and filled it in with new meaning. The first Christian carol prototype was the so-called ‘Angels' Hymn' dating back to the early 2nd century. Another famous early Christian hymn dates back to the eighth century, and that was written for the Greek Orthodox Church".

    The carol singing tradition as we know it today started in Italy, Lyubov says. "Italy was the country that introduced the traditional ‘nativity plays,' this is when Francis of Assisi started this tradition in around the 13th century. Many of these songs were sung in local languages so that people could follow and join in….There was a very widespread tradition in Europe of traveling singers called minstrels, they did a lot to popularize carols as well because they would take songs to different countries and they would sing them in the languages of the countries they would go to so these songs started spreading in different languages…"

    The invention of printing also aided the spreading of carols. "This was another important step, and collections of carols begun to be published at the beginning of the 16th century."

    To the question, are carols still being written today?, Lyubov answers: "Would you be surprised to know that hundreds and hundreds of carols are being sung and composed every year by modern composers? Interestingly, there is a difference between Christmas songs and carols, carols are always focused on the nativity, the episode of the birth of Christ, and they are essentially religious, or they stem from the religious tradition. Some of the most popular episodes would be the Annunciation, the adoration of the shepherds, the birth of Christ himself, the visit of the Magi,…whereas Christmas songs, in general, are of a more secular nature and they can be literally about the Christmas time….There is definitely a magic about Christmas carols, there is something very special about them, I am sure they have a magical effect on people." 

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    Music, carol, song, traditions, Christmas
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