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Christmas Carol Origins

Have you ever wondered about the origins of popular Christmas carols?

The Christmas carols which have enchanted us for centuries weren’t just sent from the skies in a melodious missive one starry night. For example, “Silent Night” was a joint effort between two friends. Joseph Mohr thought up the lyrics and Franz Gruber composed the melody.

Imagine creating a classic such as “Ave Maria” at only 28 years old! This is exactly what Franz Schubert did. He originally called it “Ellens dritter Gesang” after an excerpt from a poem by Sir Walter Scott, “The Lady of the Lake.” The heroine, Ellen, prays to the Virgin Mary during this scene, and today’s version usually fits the “Hail Mary” as its lyrics.

Isaac Watts would probably win for the most number of carols written. With about 750 hymns up his sleeve, we have him to thank for “Joy to the World,” which everyone from Michael Bolton to Mariah Carey has recorded. Watts was a theologian and a logician, too, and even has a statue in Southampton.

Ever find yourself thinking, “What is up with all those birds?!” every time you hear “Twelve Days of Christmas?” King Henry VIII hadn’t a clue either. The song is supposed to have stemmed from the monarch’s tiff with the Catholic Church. When he started his own religion, the Church of England, Catholics were banned from practicing their beliefs. To keep the faith alive in a secret way, they developed a code of sorts: the “seven swans a swimming” were the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; the “four calling birds” were the four Gospels; and the partridge in a pear tree was Jesus on the cross.

Now pop that Christmas CD in the player and enjoy!

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