A musical announcement, now an X'mas tradition

A musical announcement, now an X'mas tradition

What better way to symbolically go back in time and join the choirs of angels that took the good news of the birth of Jesus Christ to the poor shepherds on the hills of Bethlehem in Judea, more than two thousand years ago!

Children take part in carol-singing competition in Mysuru. DH photos

Decorated homes, churches and streets glitter against the gloomy winter nights of December. Years ago, the Choirs of Angels sang and announced the birth of Christ; now, many choir groups replicate this belief.

Going around and singing merry Christmas songs, the birth of Jesus is thus commemorated. Called carolling, this tradition adds to the Christmas cheer. 

Genesis

Singing of carols can be traced back to the pagan festivals before the advent of Christmas; it’s also believed to be an oral tradition that was passed down through the ages.

Some claim that it was probably introduced between the 3rd and the 4th centuries to commemorate the nativity of Jesus Christ and sung solemnly only in Latin.

Later, in the 13th century, when Saint Francis of Assisi, the Roman Catholic Saint for animals and the environment, integrated upbeat Latin hymns in Christmas services, carolling gained momentum.

He then introduced Nativity plays with songs written in the local people’s language. This boosted the idea of carol-singing and soon it spread across Europe. 

Carol singing is also associated with singing for charity in churches and neighbourhoods. This practice is also said to have evolved from the custom rooted in feudal societies where the poor would “sing for their supper” in exchange for food or drink. However, according to another theory, door-to-door singing of carols evolved as carols were not allowed to be sung in churches. 

Hits

It was only in the 16th century that modern carol-singing flourished. Known as Wassailing — wassail being a thick, hot spiced beverage — the Anglo-Saxon peasants adapted the pagan custom of requesting a drink from their landlords in exchange for singing good tidings.

Wassailing soon became associated with Christmas and carolling.

Between 1649 and 1660, Christmas celebrations were banned by Oliver Cromwell, a military and political leader, and this affected carolling. Nonetheless when King Charles II came back to the throne in 1660, the public singing of Christmas carols was permitted again. It is also believed, according to a legend, that the word carol is named after Carol Poles, a little English girl.

She is said to have gone missing in London during the holiday season in the late-19th century. Those looking for her went door-to-door singing to inform of their good intention, goes the legend. Today carol- singing is an integral part of Christmas.   

In Karnataka...

It starts two weeks prior to Christmas when groups go around singing Christmas melodies.Dressed in Christmas colours and sporting Christmas paraphernalia such as the Santa cap, the carolling group takes one person dressed as Santa in the typical red suit. This gives a surreal spirit to Christmas. In all major cities and towns of Karnataka carolling has steadily gained popularity. 

In Bengaluru, medley groups start their practice sessions way before December. Visiting old-age homes and sometimes prisons are also on the carolling agenda. With portable musical instruments such as guitar and violin for accompaniment and numbers both upbeat and sober, the season’s spirit of spreading goodwill and joy is carried out by the carollers braving the nip and chill of December evenings.

In Mangaluru and smaller cities such as Mysuru, though the scale of carolling is smaller than in Bengaluru, it’s integral no less. Carol performances, if priced, are for charity.

What better way to symbolically go back in time and join the Choirs of Angels that took the good news of the birth of Jesus Christ to the poor shepherds on the hills of Bethlehem in Judea, more than two thousand years ago! 

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