#MfEMonday – A Very Brief History of the Christmas Carol

Well, what a festive weekend of music making that was! Two sell out concerts by the MfE youth groups and East of England Singers, also carolsinging on the Council House steps, bringing festive cheer to the good folk of Nottingham and raising over £120 towards Open Voices! But… it’s not too late to enjoy the festivities, our Albert hall Family concert on Sunday still has some tickets available, but they’re selling fast! Get in touch 0115 9589312 to book tickets.


Continuing with the Christmas theme, last week we gave you John Rutter, ‘The Man Who Owns Christmas’.  This week we bring you ‘A very Brief History of the Christmas Carol’!:

The word Carol actually means a dance or song of praise.  Carols were originally pagan songs. The earliest reference to a carol being sung specifically for Christmas is by a Roman Bishop in AD129 who decreed that a song called Angel’s Hymn should be sung at Christmas services in Rome.  One of the oldest printed carols is the Boar’s Head Carol which dates from 1521 and was traditionally sung at Queen’s College Oxford as the Christmas meal was carried in.

The idea of groups of carollers assembling in public spaces was a 19th-century one.  Originally called ‘waits’, these collections of singers used to gather to perform for passers-by, who traditionally thanked them with offerings of drinks or figgy puddings!  It became known as wassailing and continues today.

The Carol writing tradition is alive and thriving today with many living composers including John Rutter, Arvo Part, Eric Whitaker and Bob Chilcott having written beautiful contemporary Carols.

  • As well as some traditional Christmas Carols, you will be able to hear some wonderfully uplifting Christmas music performed by our massed choir and the vocals Childrens’ choir at the Albert Hall on Sunday 15 December (more information here).  If you’re unsure as to what defines ‘Christmas music’, here are the basic elements:  stirring melodies sprinkled with minor and diminished chords, and nostalgic lyrics (think White Christmas whose lyrics, according to Classicfm, are ‘doused in more nostalgia than your nan puts sherry on her Christmas pudding!’).  Have a go at writing your own Christmas song with this handy song lyrics generator!
  • And finally sleigh bells.  No Christmas music is complete without sleigh bells!

Have a good week!

Your friends at MfE.



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#MfEMondays are Music for Everyone’s new weekly emails designed to keep you up to date with MfE events & to circulate interesting finds, special features, and motivational moments for your Mondays! We are aiming to send out something new each week.