It is no secret that I have restored and operate a carillon in my clock shop. I originally acquired my carillon for its ability to strike out the Westminster Chime every 15 minutes and count the hour on live, cast bronze bell rods thinking this would be a great way to celebrate the clock shop. I had no idea when I purchased this carillon that it had a full set of English Bells chimes and was able to be programmed to play music as well as strike out the chimes when I wanted. I have since collected thousands of songs that the carillon can play and rotate the music throughout the year playing selections ranging from classical to hymns, to ancient religious works, up to modern, popular Christmas tunes, Christmas Carols and patriotic selections. I have always been interested in music and as anyone that is serious about time keeping knows the sound of a well running time piece is like that of an orchestra with all of the sections playing in harmony. Any part that is out of tune will result in the entire ensemble being out of tune and not operating to its best potential.
That said, some of my favorite music is Christmas music. Carols were first sung in Europe thousands of years ago, but these were not Christmas Carols. They were pagan songs, sung at the Winter Solstice celebrations as people danced round stone circles. The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, usually taking place around the 22nd December. The word Carol actually means dance or a song of praise and joy! Carols used to be written and sung during all four seasons, but only the tradition of singing them at Christmas has really survived!
Early Christians took over the pagan solstice celebrations for Christmas and gave people Christian songs to sing instead of pagan ones. In AD 129, a Roman Bishop said that a song called 'Angel's Hymn' should be sung at a Christmas service in Rome. Another famous early Christmas Hymn was written, in 760AD, by Comas of Jerusalem for the Greek Orthodox Church. Soon after this many composers all over Europe started to write carols. However, not many people liked them as they were all written and sung in Latin, a language that the normal people couldn't understand. By the time of the Middles Ages (the 1200s), most people had lost interest in celebrating Christmas altogether.
This was changed by St. Francis of Assisi when, in 1223, he started his Nativity Plays in Italy. The people in the plays sang songs or 'canticles' that told the story during the plays. Sometimes, the choruses of these new carols were in Latin; but normally they were all in a language that the people watching the play could understand and join in! The new carols spread to France, Spain, Germany and other European countries.
The earliest carol, like this, was written in 1410. Sadly only a very small fragment of it still exists. The carol was about Mary and Jesus meeting different people in Bethlehem. Most Carols from this time and the Elizabethan period are untrue stories, very loosely based on the Christmas story, about the holy family and were seen as entertaining rather than religious songs. They were usually sung in homes rather than in churches! Traveling singers or Minstrels started singing these carols and the words were changed for the local people wherever they were traveling. One carols that changed like this is 'I Saw Three Ships'.
When Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans came to power in England in 1647, the celebration of Christmas and singing carols was stopped. However, the carols survived as people still sang them in secret. Carols remained mainly unsung until Victorian times, when two men called William Sandys and Davis Gilbert collected lots of old Christmas music from villages in England.
Before carol singing in public became popular, there were sometimes official carol singers called 'Waits'. These were bands of people led by important local leaders (such as council leaders) who had the only power in the towns and villages to take money from the public (If others did this, they were sometimes charged as beggars!). They were called 'Waits' because they only sang on Christmas Eve (This was sometimes known as 'watchnight' or 'waitnight' because of the shepherds were watching their sheep when the angels appeared to them.), when the Christmas celebrations began.
Also, at this time, many orchestras and choirs were being set up in the cities of England and people wanted Christmas songs to sing, so carols once again became popular. Many new carols, such as 'Good King Wenceslas', were also written .
New carols services were created and became popular, as did the custom of singing carols in the streets. Both of these customs are still popular today! One of the most popular types of Carols services are Carols by Candlelight services. At this service, the church is only lit by candlelight and it feels very Christmassy! Carols by Candlelight services are held in countries all over the world.Christmas music has a long and troubled past. I intend to keep the Christmas music tradition alive at Pine Knoll Clock Shop. Our carillon is set play five Christmas Selections each hour from 9:00am to 6:00pm Monday through Saturday. One Sunday we play selection at 10:00am, 12:00noon, 3:00pm, 4:00pm, 5:00pm, and 6:00pm. Stop by for a listen; it is quite the soul nourishing experience