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Christmas Carols

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

  1. "White Christmas" by Irving Berlin - 1942
  2. "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" by J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie - 1934
  3. "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)" by Mel Torme and Robert Wells - 1946
  4. "Winter Wonderland" by Felix Bernard and Richard B. Smith - 1934
  5. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" by Johnny Marks - 1949
  6. "Sleigh Ride" by Leroy Anderson - 1948 (words added in 1950 by Mitchell Parish)
  7. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin - 1944
  8. "Silver Bells" by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans - 1950
  9. "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne - 1945
  10. "Little Drummer Boy" by Katherine K. Davis, Henry V. Onorati and Harry Simeone - 1941
  11. "Jingle Bell Rock" by Joseph Carleton Beal and James Ross Boothe - 1957
  12. "I'll Be Home for Christmas" by Walter Kent, Kim Gannon and Buck Ram - 1943
  13. "Frosty the Snowman" by Steve Nelson and Walter E. Rollins - 1950
  14. "Blue Christmas" by Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson - 1948
  15. "Carol of the Bells" by Peter J. Wilhousky and Mykola Dmytrovich Leontovich - 1936
  16. "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" by Meredith Willson - 1951
  17. "Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)" by Gene Autry and Oakley Haldeman - 1946
  18. "(There's No Place Like) Home for the Holidays" by Bob Allen and Al Stillman - 1954
  19. "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" by Johnny Marks - 1958
  20. "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" by Tommie Connor - 1952
  21. "We Need a Little Christmas" by Jerry Herman - 1966
  22. "The Christmas Waltz" by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne - 1954
  23. "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" by Ross Bagdasarian (David Seville) - 1958
  24. "Feliz Navidad" by Jose Feliciano - 1970
  25. "A Holly Jolly Christmas" by Johnny Marks - 1962

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