Traditional Christmas Music

What’s Your Favorite Christmas Music?

christmas songsYou only have to turn on the radio in December to hear the endless supply of Christmas music available to us these days. But despite being inundated with a barrage of newly penned Christmas hits, a few traditional carols remain at the top of everyone’s party music list.

When thinking of traditional carols, no doubt Jingle Bells is one of the first to spring to mind. Strangely enough, however, this classic wasn’t intended to be sung at Christmas at all! Its American author, James Pierpont, composed the song in 1857 as a Thanksgiving celebration. Pierpont was a Boston based minister and his Sunday school students loved the song so much they reprised it at Christmas where it has stayed ever since! According to a Massachusetts historical society, Pierpont was inspired to write the song by the sleigh races that took place in his hometown of Medford during the 1800’s. Indeed, the song was first published under the title One Horse Open Sleigh. As the song developed into a Christmas classic however, those jingling bells came to herald the arrival of Saint Nick. After all, everyone knows that when there are sleigh bells ringing, Santa must be on his on his way!

We Wish You a Merry Christmas is another classic without which Christmas would not be complete. The carol’s beginnings can no longer be traced, but it is believed to have been written in England somewhere around the sixteenth century. The song reflects the age-old tradition of carolling, where citizens would gather on the doorsteps of the wealthy and receive Christmas treats in exchange for a tune. The carollers in We Wish You a Merry Christmas are singing for a figgy pudding, though this later verse is rarely heard these days. Like all good Christmas traditions though, the figgy pudding has survived the test of time: the sixteenth century dish of figs with butter, sugar, eggs, milk, rum and spices bears more than just a passing resemblance to the puddings that adorn our Christmas tables today!

If a sprightly rendition of Deck the Halls makes you feel like dancing, you’re not alone. The tune, a Welsh air dating back to medieval times, is still popular as a dance tune in Wales today. The melody existed for centuries without its current lyrics. In addition to its popularity as a dance tune, it was also used for an old Welsh carol called Nos Galan. Even Mozart was a fan of the melody, using it for a violin and piano Sonata in the early 1700’s. The first English version of the carol appeared in 1881. The lyrics make reference to the song’s history as a dance favourite in the line “follow me in merry measure”; the word ‘measure’ used here as a synonym for dance.

Perhaps the most famous of all traditional Christmas carols is Silent Night. Priest Father Joseph Mohr penned the lyrics in their original German in 1816. For two years they remained unseen, until Christmas Eve in 1818. That day, Mohr showed his lyrics to his acquaintance Franz Xaver Gruber and requested a melody and guitar accompaniment for the evening’s church service. Gruber was obviously a musician spurred on by a deadline because the strains of Silent Night are still heard every December, with only a few changes made to his nineteenth century original. Perhaps the most poignant rendition of Gruber and Mohr’s carol came at Christmas 1914. World War I troops sung the carol simultaneously in English, German and French as part of the Christmas truce; Silent Night being one of the few carols both sides knew.

These songs, along with other classics like O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark, the Herald Angels Sing will always be a part of our holiday celebrations. They are instantly recognisable and give us an intriguing glimpse into Christmases gone by. No doubt we will be singing them around the tree for as long as we continue to celebrate. After all, Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without them.
own special way; with sunscreen, plenty of beer and a collection of music all of their own.

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