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Christmas: Carols

What is the origin of these Christmas songs?

opened musical book at Silent Night, Holy Night pageThe first Christmas carol came from France. The singers would dance as they sang - the word 'carol' means a circling dance.

It's not easy to identify the very first carol ever written, but there are a few contenders. Whilst Christmas music has been written since the 4th century, it was used in church services until around the 13th century. In fact, music wasn't even used in church services until the 12th century!

The oldest Christmas songs we know about are religious. The Latin song which celebrates Jesus, 'Jesus Refulsit Omnium' - which means 'Jesus Illuminates All' - was composed by St. Hilary of Poitiers in the 4th century. This was probably after the very first Christmas celebration in 336 AD!

There is a French version of a song about the animals which were present at the birth of Christ. It is called 'The Friendly Beasts' and was written in the 12th century. Many believe this to be the earliest Christmas carol, and is still sung today!

It was not until the 16th century that a carol was written which is very famous and, again, is sung today: 'God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.' This is a very famous carol and many churches sing it regularly at Christmas services.

One thing we do know, however, is that Christmas carols have been sung in UK churches for around 800 years. Some of our most popular carols are very old, but every year new ones are written.

Click here to listen to some traditional Christmas Carols.

Challenge Probably one of the most well known Christmas carols is 'Away in a Manger.'
Away in a manger, no crib for His bed, The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head; The stars in the heavens looked down where He lay, The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay. The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes, But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes...
Could you write a song that told the story of the first Christmas?