A Tradition we almost lost
What would Christmas be like without Christmas carols? Christmas carols have long been associated with our most beloved religious holiday, although religion banned their use in times past.
Christmas Carols Banned
During the middle ages, the singing of music was often associated with pagan worship. So medieval churches limited or in some cases completely outlawed the singing of Christmas carols at Christmastime. As early as the 7th century the Council of Chalonsur-Saone issued a decree prohibiting Christmas carols. The Council of Avignon in the 13th century, Pope John XXII in the 14th century and The Council of Basle in 1435 all issued similar Christmas carol bans. In the 16th century, the Council of Trent attempted to moderate the use of Christmas carols by choosing which songs were appropriate.
More Christmas Carol Prohibitions
Christmas carol prohibitions grew worse. The Puritans in England, for example, went so far as to outlaw the celebration of Christmas itself from 1643 to 1660, and that meant no singing of Christmas carols. Their reasoning? Celebrating Christmas, including singing Christmas carols and giving gifts, was not validated in the Bible!
Christmas Carols Find a Way to Survive
But attempts to curtail Christmas carols backfired. The lyrics and melodies of beloved Christmas carols continued to be passed down from one generation to another. The big breakthrough came in the mid-15th century with the invention of the Gutenberg Press and movable type. Now Christmas carols could be printed and made available to multitudes of people. Thus, mass production brought Christmas carols to the forefront and caused them to become more popular than ever.
Another breakthrough contributed to the popularity of Christmas carols. A London grocer named Richard Hill kept a journal from 1500-1553. Among the many things he recorded, he wanted to remember a number of his favorite Christmas carols. Centuries after his death in about 1850, someone found Hill's book behind an old bookcase. That discovery breathed new life and a reverent appreciation for the old Christmas carols.
Christmas Carols Today
Traditional Christmas carols, such as "Silent Night" and "Away in a Manger," continue to be sung at Christmastime as they have been for generations. But modern day songwriters have given us Christmas carols that also add to the merriment of the holiday season. In 1998, The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) announced the Society's 25 most-performed Christmas carols that had been written during the 1900s.
25 Most Performed Christmas Carols in Order
- "White Christmas" by Irving Berlin - 1942
- "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" by J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie - 1934
- "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)" by Mel Torme and Robert Wells - 1946
- "Winter Wonderland" by Felix Bernard and Richard B. Smith - 1934
- "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" by Johnny Marks - 1949
- "Sleigh Ride" by Leroy Anderson - 1948 (words added in 1950 by Mitchell Parish)
- "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin - 1944
- "Silver Bells" by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans - 1950
- "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne - 1945
- "Little Drummer Boy" by Katherine K. Davis, Henry V. Onorati and Harry Simeone - 1941
- "Jingle Bell Rock" by Joseph Carleton Beal and James Ross Boothe - 1957
- "I'll Be Home for Christmas" by Walter Kent, Kim Gannon and Buck Ram - 1943
- "Frosty the Snowman" by Steve Nelson and Walter E. Rollins - 1950
- "Blue Christmas" by Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson - 1948
- "Carol of the Bells" by Peter J. Wilhousky and Mykola Dmytrovich Leontovich - 1936
- "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" by Meredith Willson - 1951
- "Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)" by Gene Autry and Oakley Haldeman - 1946
- "(There's No Place Like) Home for the Holidays" by Bob Allen and Al Stillman - 1954
- "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" by Johnny Marks - 1958
- "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" by Tommie Connor - 1952
- "We Need a Little Christmas" by Jerry Herman - 1966
- "The Christmas Waltz" by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne - 1954
- "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" by Ross Bagdasarian (David Seville) - 1958
- "Feliz Navidad" by Jose Feliciano - 1970
- "A Holly Jolly Christmas" by Johnny Marks - 1962