|Many of the
Christmas carols that we sing today originated during Victorian times.
The Victorians loved music and, as part of their holiday celebrations,
began to revive old medieval English carols. They also composed new
ones, both secular and religious, most of which are English. Parlor
singing also became a popular form of home entertainment since the
Victorians had no radio, television, or Internet In order for everyone
to participate, regardless of their singing ability, they featured
easily sung music that celebrated the cheer of Christmas. As musicians
assembled old nativity carols into collections such as "A Good
Christmas Box" in 1847 and "Christmas Carols Ancient and
Modern" in 1871, Handel’s Messiah and strains of "O Holy
Night" filled the churches.
It became common for
middle and upper middle class Victorians to have a piano or organ in
their parlors. Those that couldn’t afford this luxury purchased a
roller or "cob" organ, a device which had a roller that
looked like a cob of corn that played music when turned, for $3.95
from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. After the Christmas feast, the
family would gather around to sing Christmas carols like "O
Christmas Tree" and "Silent Night" from Germany.
The tradition of
caroling from door to door originated with the "waits," an
ancient English custom of going from house to house and singing in
exchange for food. Singing carols outdoors on the front porches of
houses became popular in both England and the United States as early
as the late 19th Century and continued into the 20th. The
English carol "Here We Come a-Wassailing" best describes the
tradition of the waits.
Originally carols were
part of secular holiday celebrations–something to sing at home. But
with the substitution of new words to old carols and the composition
of new religious songs about Christmas, people began to sing carols as
part of church services.
The Victorians wrote or
revised some of today’s favorite Christmas carols. Such all-time
favorites as "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," "Good
Christian Men Rejoice," "O Little Town of Bethlehem,
"Away in a Manger," and "We Three Kings" reflected
the religious side of Christmas while cheerful songs like "Jingle
Bells" celebrated the joyous side of the holiday season.