Whether you have a good singing voice or not, get into the swing of the holiday season with Go Caroling Day on December 20. You may be surprised to hear that carols did not originate as holiday songs at all. Carols were folk dances, and carol meant "to dance in a ring.” Most often these dances and their accompanying songs were sung in the pubs (along with the presumptive overindulgence of ale). So when did carols make the jump from the alehouse to the church house?
The answer might lie in Victorian England. Wassailing, or the act of wishing good fortune on your neighbors, was a fairly common practice during the medieval era. It was believed that if you passed well wishes to your neighbors, they would reward you in turn. Caroling, or performing folk songs of well-wishes to neighbors, became traditional during local festivals and on holidays like May Day. But it was during the Victorian Era that caroling became forever merged with Christmastime. Legend has it that the first Christmas carol service was held in Truro, England, in 1880, when Edward White Benson attempted to lure carolers out of the pub on Christmas Eve by publicizing a carol service at church. Benson would go on to become the Archbishop of Canterbury.
It was also during Victorian England that Christmas became more popular and commercialized. Publishers began compiling and printing vast anthologies of carols. Some went so far as to take ancient songs and rewrite them as hymns to the birth of Christ. Many of the most famous Christmas carols date from this period, including "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” "The First Noel,” "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing!,” and "Joy to the World.” Nowadays, Christmas caroling is almost uniquely found during church services. Rarely do carolers venture door-to-door a-wassailing as they once did in olden times. But on December 20, Go Caroling Day, the practice may be revived. So don’t be surprised if you hear a knock on your door and a choir of voices.