What would the Christmas season be like without Johnny Mathis’ voice filling the room (Yes, my wife is a huge fan)? Songs are very important to our liturgies and culture. Some would say they are inextricably linked together. In fact, Plato and Socrates warned that children should not be exposed to the music of a culture until their moral formation was complete. Plato said 19 while Socrates said 22. It is true that you can gauge the morality of a society (and by extension its members) by the music it listens to and creates.
Christmas songs today are usually referred to as carols from the Old English carolen meaning to “sign joyfully” (This of course is from the Greek choraulein, a ring dance with flutes). History reports that carols go all the way back to fifth-century Latin hymns. Modern Christmas carols trace their origin back to thirteenth-century Italy introduced by the Poverello himself – St. Francis of Assisi. Under his influence and devotion to the Nativity, Christmas carols spread and flourished throughout Europe.
Christmas caroling in the American colonies is an example of the patrimony given to us by the English. In the late-1800’s, caroling became popular in the Beacon Hill district of Boston. At the turn of last century, St. Louis carolers would serenade homes decorated with a candle in the window.
Today, most of the good spiritual carols have been forgotten with exception of those hymns we find in our liturgies. Due to the growing secular culture, schools prohibit carols that have anything to do with religion. For this reason, The Twelve Days of Christmas is my favorite carol, which is a completely different topic to consider. I am elated that the schools continue to promote the kids singing this song. One day, the scholls will discover that they have been catechizing their youth for us. Then we will simply fill in the blanks and the truth will set them free.