From Wassailing To Christmas Caroling

By | November 30, 2019

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Christmas Carolers. Source: (The Children’s Society)

Every year, TV channels like Hallmark and Lifetime play countless Christmas movies set in Small Town, USA. And, at some point in most of these movies, the main characters will be convinced to go Christmas caroling. All of them will have perfect voices despite the freezing cold (there’s always snow in the movies) and the giant mugs of hot chocolate they consume to keep warm. However, the real-life version is likely much less enjoyable, thus leading one to wonder who came up with the idea in the first place.

The etymology of the word “carol” reveals it to be linked with dance rather than singing. The Old French word “carole” is a kind of dance while similar words like “choraula” in Latin and “choraules” in Greek both refer to a dance accompanied by the flute. Therefore, it makes sense that the earliest carols had no connection with Christmas but were instead the animated beats accompanying traditional dances. These dances were, however, connected with the Yule Festival in which Northern Europeans would celebrate the Winter Solstice through song and dance. Eventually, these early songs would evolve into hymns, no longer accompanied by dance.

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Christmas carol group at Bangalore, India. Source: (

The first songs celebrating the birth of Christ were written in Latin around the fourth or fifth century, but they did not become known as Christmas Carols until around the thirteenth century. It was Francis of Assisi, the Roman Catholic saint of animals and the environment, who is believed to have been the first to incorporate the more upbeat Latin hymns into his Christmas service. From there, it spread throughout Europe.