The falling snowflakes glistened in the light of street lamps as they floated gracefully to the ground. Our quartet of choristers trudged through the piles of snow that had collected on the sidewalks and climbed the stairs of a large, beautiful house. Our tenor pulled out his pitch pipe and blew an A; the soprano rang the doorbell. An impeccably dressed woman answered the door as we burst into song : "Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plains."
The woman’s face broke into a smile and she opened the door wider. As we finished the chorus, she beckoned us in, saying, “Please, won’t you come and sing for everyone? We’re having a Christmas party and we love music.” Delightedly, we entered and gratefully accepted some hot cider, warming our frozen fingers on the hot mugs.
After this short reprieve, we continued our little concert to exclamations of praise. “What a wonderful treat,” said one guest. “They sound like angels,” murmured another.
A history of caroling
While still sometimes done today, the notion of going from house to house singing songs that tell the Christmas story is best known as a tradition of Victorian England. In fact, the 1800s were the heyday of modern caroling, and that influence is still evident. Today, you might walk through a crowded shopping mall during the holiday season and find yourself face to face with a group of singers fully outfitted as Victorian carolers. However, the practice of caroling actually began hundreds of years earlier.
In medieval England, literacy was extremely low. Because so few people could read, other ways of imparting and retaining knowledge were needed. One of the ways society was educated was through theatrical productions. Theses “mystery plays” dramatized stories from the Bible, though not always with complete accuracy. One of the most popular themes was the Christmas story, as in the Second Shepherd’s Play. This story told about the birth of Jesus Christ and used songs as a diversion between acts. These musical interludes were the predecessors of what we currently know as Christmas carols.
These religious songs fell out of popular use in the 16th century. However, the songs continued to be sung in isolated communities until composers such as Arthur Sullivan revived them in the Victorian era.
Joy to the would
Today, many people sing Christmas carols as well as more modern Christmas song during this festive time of year. Though traditional caroling is not done as frequently, some people still go wassailing in the weeks leading up to December 25.
Wassailing is an ole-fashioned term for caroling that originated in the 1700s. To wassail specifically refers to going house to house, singing carols in order to receive food and drink, or possibly money to be donated to charity. This practice probably originated in medieval times with wandering musicians who would visit castles and perform for the people there in order to earn something to eat.
These days it would be unusual for carolers to ring your doorbell and sing for you, then expect something in return. However, the tradition of caroling continues to bring joy to people’s lives and remind them of the good news of the Christmas season.
Silent Night / Joy to the World / O Come All Ye Faithful
- quartet 四重奏(唱)
- pitch pipe 調音笛;正音器
- cider 蘋果汁
- impeccably : flawlessly, perfectly, with no problems or bad parts
- beckon : to move your hand or head in a way that tells someone to come nearer
- reprieve : an escape from a bad situation or experience
- predecessor : something which comes before another thing in time or in a series