Just as much as the candles, colors, sights, and smells remind us of Christmastime and the coming of Christ, so too do the sounds of carols, which seem to filter into our collective consciousness from every which way this time of year — from KOIT 96.5 to the street corners downtown to our very own church. And while “Jingle Bells” is quite a bit different from “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” they each have a place in this joyful, hopeful time of watching and waiting.
Christmas carols have a rich history in the Christian faith, like the colors and candlelight traditions of Christmas, dating to the pre-Christian Romans and Gauls. Carols used to be sung at the Winter and Summer Solstices, as well as the Spring and Autumnal Equinoxes, though these are not the carols we are familiar with today. Those songs Christian missionaries replaced with other Christian hymns, but the songs we sing today are more closely related to the ones inspired by St. Francis of Assisi’s Nativity plays from the 13th Century.
The songs in Francis’ plays conveyed familiar material about the birth of Christ in a new way, but were sung in the local language so the majority of people could understand and enjoy them. (The earliest Christian songs were all in Latin, which few people understood, and so the tradition of singing as worship didn’t “stick” for a while.)
As we bring home the hygge this holiday, it’s important to consider the sounds that fill our spaces. The music we add to our homes and cars and stories can change the mood of a certain place and time in an instant. When we share these sounds of the season with others, we enrich our collective experiences and memories.
Christmas carols have a knack of bridging divides in our faith that must be recognized. As Catholics, we fall directly under the umbrella of “Christianity,” but it cannot be denied that some saddening splits exist between the different Christian faiths. But Christmas carols mean the same thing to all of us — waiting in hopeful anticipation of the birth of Christ in the dead of winter, celebrating His arrival, and joyfully sharing it with the world.
“Carols bring Christians together around the manger. They blend beautifully text and music to uplift us all and lift our spirits at Christmas,” writes Gerald O’Collins for the Oxford University Press. “When we sing our favorite carols this Christmas, let us rejoice in their ecumenical origins and in their use by Christians everywhere.”
My first memory ever of Christmas caroling was actually a Saint Brendan Parish event. I was probably about five years old, and we gathered in the parish hall for hot chocolate and coffee before heading out into the night. Two members of the choir led our small group, and we went from door to door down Ulloa Street and across the Portola overpass singing Christmas carols. I loved it. Then, I remember whispering into my dad’s ear, completely shattering the mood, “Wow, this is so cool. Can I have a candy cane now?”
--Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
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