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The Untold History Behind Your Favourite Timeless Christmas Carols

By Oreoritse Tariemi
25 December 2021   |   1:37 pm
If there's one thing, Christmas is well known for its the sound of carols playing from speakers everywhere you look.  Infectious sounds with catching rhymes, Christmas carols have grown with us from childhood into adulthood. What's more exciting about them is the untold secrets behind these carols that no one talks about.  In fact, many…

Three cute kids in Santa hats are singing Christmas carols. Cartoon vector illustration

If there’s one thing, Christmas is well known for its the sound of carols playing from speakers everywhere you look. 

Infectious sounds with catching rhymes, Christmas carols have grown with us from childhood into adulthood. What’s more exciting about them is the untold secrets behind these carols that no one talks about. 

In fact, many iconic Christmas carols have fascinating and surprising origin stories. Here are some untold secrets behind your favorite timeless Christmas carols you probably didn’t know:

  • Silent Night

A well-known Christmas carol, Silent Night, has been attributed to many famous composers, including Haydn and Beethoven. It was not until 1995 when the song’s original 1820 manuscript was found confirming the song’s composers. 

Silent Night was written by two Austrians: Franz Xaver Gruber, a primary school teacher, Joseph Mohr, an assistant pastor at St. Nicholas Church in Salzburg. Gruber had started working as a choirmaster and organist at the church in 1816 when he composed Stille Nacht alongside Mohr. 

Mohr wrote the lyrics while Gruber composed the music. Silent Night was performed for the first time at Christmas Mass in 1818, with Gruber on the organ and Mohr on guitar. The carol became mini-popular when an organ builder who serviced the church’s organ fell in love with the song and spread the news to other churches.

It was later picked up by two popular traveling families of folk singers around 1931, the Strassers and the Rainers, after which it grew in popularity.

  • Jingle Bells

Another really popular Christmas carol, Jingle Bells, was composed by organist James Pierpont at a Unitarian church in Savannah, Georgia, as a thanksgiving tune. In 1857, Pierpont copyrighted the song “One Horse Open Sleigh.”

In 1859, the tune was reprinted with the title “Jingle Bells, or the One Horse Open Sleigh.” While the song’s lyrics remain the same, the song has now become a Christmas carol. 

  • O Come, All Ye Faithful

 O Come, All Ye Faithful wasn’t always named that, in fact, it was written in Latin as Adeste Fideles. What you might not have guessed is that this warm Christmas carl had started as a rallying cry for revolution.

The song is believed to have been written by John Francis Wade, who fled England following the 1745 Jacobite rebellion to teach music at a school for British Roman Catholic exiles in France.

The Telegraph describes the song first published in 1760 as a “coded rallying cry for the Stewart cause.” 

  • 12 Days Of Christmas

Loved by many, the lyrics of this carol are not simply a play on words. Many believe the song to have been formed as a way for Catholics to practice the catechism so that those listening would not understand.

The best-known version was first printed in 1780 in the children’s book Mirth Without Mischief.

This theory believes each of the 12 “gifts” represents the 12 Fruits of the Holy Ghost. While there is no exact evidence for this theory, others believe the song to have originated as a memory game for kids.

  • Joy To The World

Yet another Christmas carol not meant to be a Christmas song, Joy To The World, was intended to be sung during easter. Written by English hymnist Isaac Watts in 1719, the song’s lyrics refer to the second coming of Jesus.

The current-day version of the song comes from Lowell Mason’s The National Psalmist from 1848—titled Antioch and attributed to Handel.

Christmas time holds great significance, and Christmas carols remind us why ‘Tis The Season To Be Jolly. Whatever your favorite tune is, be sure to look up its origins; who knows, you might find something that makes it even more special.