minstrel: Caroling

Ted Hewitt brogoose at pe.net
Thu Dec 25 20:10:11 PST 1997

At 03:51 PM 12/25/97 -0900, you wrote:
>I was wondering if anyone out there had any information on the origin of
>Christams caroling.  I guessed that it was probably out of period, seeing
>as how most carols come from around the 18th and 19th centuries.  However,
>I have heard of medieval celebrations and festivities that might have been
>an early forerunner.  Are these things totally unconnected or does
>caroling have its roots in medieval europe?
>Logan of Winter's Gate

Caroling has its roots in ring dances and singing which are as old as man.
According to "Christmas Customs and Traditions: Their History and 
Significance," by Clement Miles:

"There still linger about the word some of its original meaning, for
'carol' had at first a secular or even pagan significance: in
twelfth-century France it was used to describe the amourous song-dance
which hailed the coming of spring; in Italian it meant a ring- or
song-dance; while by English writers from the thirteenth to sixteenth
century it was used chiefly of singing joined with dancing, and had no
necessary connection with religion.  Much as the mediaeval Church, with its
ascetic tendencies, disliked religious dancing, it could not always
suppress it; and in Germany... there was choral dancing at Christmas round
the cradle of the Christ Child.  Whether Christmas carols were ever danced
to in England is doubtful; many of the old airs and words have, however, a
glee and playfulness as of human nature following its natural instincts of
joy even in the celebration of the most sacred mysteries.  It is probable
that some of the carols are religious parodies of love-songs, written for
the melodies of the originals and many seem by their structure to be
indirectly derived from the choral dances of farm folk, a notable feature
being their burden or refrain, a survival of the common outcry of the
dancers as they leaped around."

I have seen anglo-saxon poetry described as Carols.  Many of the seasonal
songs which we would call Carols were not religious in nature and described
seasonal subjects.  However, as the quote above says, carols were adapted
to popular religious use - even during period.  The most popular carol 
still around today from period is the "Boar's Head Carol".  One more 
recent version from Queens College goes (in part):

	"The boar's head in hand bear I,
	Bedeck'd with bays and rosemary;
	And I pray you, my masters, be merry,
		Quot estis in convivio.
		Caput apri defero,
		Reddens laudes Domino"

Edwin, Full-time Idealist, Part-time Realist
<brogoose at pe.net>

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