As the austerity of medieval Christianity began to soften, a kind of renaissance took place and carols merged with folk songs that were the Pop songs of the day - the songs that were whistled or sung by ordinary people. History credits Saint Francis of Assisi with bringing about a new interest in the feast of the Nativity and the Babe in Bethlehem. The priests in St. Francis' order developed a style of religious folk song called a lauda. Laudas had happy, joyful dance rhythms that were so catchy and memorable that the song form soon spread across Fourteenth Century Europe.
The religious lauda got mixed together with a popular pagan custom called wassailing, in which people sang from door to door to drive away evil spirits and drank to the health of those they visited. What evolved from the marriage of wassailing and the lauda was the custom of caroling, which is still so much a part of our Christmases some seven centuries later.
By the Seventeenth Century it was clear that everyone was having entirely too much fun! So the Grinch - otherwise known as the Puritan English Parliament - decided to abolish Christmas altogether! That's right….not only did the carols get the axe, but the entire Christmas Holiday was eliminated. People who continued to celebrate the birth of Christ with happy and lighthearted carol singing were actually accused of witchcraft and risked imprisonment or death!
It took several dark and gloomy decades before the prohibition against carol singing was lifted and people again began to write and sing carols freely. The popularity of the carol increased rapidly throughout the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, and it was during this time period that many of our favorite carols were created.
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