Monday, December 21, 2020

Christmas Carols

It's that time of the year again when one can find hours and hours and hours of Christmas carols on the radio, Youtube, and in shopping malls.  Many carols have a religious association while others are pure entertainment.  In addition, many of these carols have travelled across the world becoming popular with everyone.

The earliest record of a Christmas carol goes back to the 4th century when St. Hillary of Pointiers composed "Jesus Refulsit Omnium" or "Jesus Illuminates All".  The carols that most of us are familiar with, did not appear until much later.

One of the first ones of the more modern ones is "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman" which appeared in the 16th century but not with the familiar words.  The version we now sing didn't make an appearance until the 19th century.  The first printed version of "Hark the Heralds Angles Sing" can be traced back to 1739 and by the 20th century, many more had been written.

In fact, many of our holiday carols have been changed, adjusted, and adapted to the season.  "Hark the Harold Angles Sing" started out as a hymn written by Charles Wesley, co-founder of the Methodist church meant to focus on God but about 20 years after he wrote it, another preacher took it and changed the words to make it the version we know today.  Another interesting fact about this song is that the tune was originally written by Mendelssohn to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Gutenberg.  He said he didn't mind if others wrote new words to the tune but they were not to be religious based.  I guess someone didn't listen.

On the other hand, the person who composed Good King Wenceslas, paired up an obscure Finnish tune with the fictionalized story of a Bohemian Duke and published it in 1853.  King Wenceslas was not really a king and wasn't even named Wenceslas but was actually a Bohemian Duke who lived a rather unique life in the 10th century.  When he was young, his father died and he was raised by his mother and grandmother who hated each other.  Eventually his mother had his grandmother killed off.  Supposedly, the duke gave alms to the poor to help them out but he didn't live to a ripe old age because his only brother killed him off.

Then if you look at the 20th century, you'll find all sorts of "classics" that are quite young.  The movie industry is responsible for many of the modern ones.  For instance, "Have yourself a merry little Christmas" comes to us from the 1944 movie Meet Me In Saint Louis starry Judy Garland, or "Silver Bells" sung by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell in the 1951 movie The Lemon Drop Kid.  Then there is the famous "White Christmas" sung by Bing Crosby in the 1942 movie White Christmas.

In addition, you'll find songs we think of as age old carols, having been penned in the last century such as "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and "Winter Wonderland" from 1934, or even more modern from the 1950's are "Jingle Bell Rock", "Little Drummer Boy", or "Rockin Around The Christmas Tree."  

Others such as "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" have an interesting history.  Rudolph started out as a short story penned by Robert L. May for Montgomery Wards.  The store sent it out as a free book for children in 1939 for Christmas.  Later on, May got together with his brother-in-law who was a songwriter to create the song of the same name based on the book.  The song was recorded by Gene Autry and became a hit in 1949.  Shortly afterwards, the song was turned into an animated movie for children to enjoy. 

Just one year later, two songwriters penned "Frosty the Snowman" to capitalize on the success of Rudolf the red nosed reindeer.  Although it wasn't as much of a hit as Rudolf, it was well received due to the book versions produced by Little Golden Books and Dell Comics.  In 1954, United Productions of America created a 3 minute black and white music video of a jazzy version of the Frosty Song.  This version became a tradition in many markets but in 1969, the animated version most of us know was released.

Every year, pop stars release their own new Christmas carol in the hopes it will stay such as "All I want for Christmas is you" by Mariah Carey.  Her song has become a Christmas classic, joining so many others.  Let me know what you think, I'd love to hear.  Have a great day.

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