History of Christmas Music

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Christmas and music go hand in hand. Since it is the season, I thought it would be fun to give my readers a few interesting facts about the history of Christmas music.

  • The earliest Christmas music is thought to date to Rome in the 4th century – hymns sung in Latin. Early in the 13th century, St. Francis of Assisi encouraged the tradition of Christmas songs in local languages.
  • The earliest known reference to English Christmas carols dates to the year 1426 – English priest and poet John Awdlay created a list of 25 “caroles of Cristemas” sung by groups of “wassailers.”
  • By the 16th century, melodies for carols that we know today were written, including The 12 Day of Christmas, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and O Christmas Tree. Lyrics for these songs started to be published in the 18th and 19th centuries.
  • In the 1800s, historians began to search museums for early Christmas carols. Around 500 different carols have been found.
  • The 12 Days of Christmas haven’t always been what you hear today. The earliest version dates to 1780 – it actually is pretty close to what we hear today. Only differences are: my true love “sent” to me rather than “gave” to me; there were 4 “colly birds” rather than “calling birds” (Colly is an English expression for “black”); 5 “gold” rings rather than “golden”; and drummers/pipers/ladies and lords were days 9, 10, 11, and 12, while today they are days 10, 9, 12 and 11. Other variations over the years refer to gifts that “my mother sent to me; “fat hens” instead of “French hens”; Collie birds, Coloured birds, Curley birds, and Canary birds instead of calling birds; and a variety of things like hares a-running, badgers baiting, fiddlers a-fiddling, bulls a-roaring, and others.
  • The most played holiday song (all artists combined) of the past 50 years is Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.
  • The most recorded song is White Christmas. There are over 500 versions of it that have been recorded.
  • The most recent Christmas hit is Mariah Carey’s 1994 song All I Want For Christmas Is You. Co-written and co-produced by Carey, it has charted in the Billboard Hot 100 numerous times, and in 2018, it reached #6 on the chart – the highest charting holiday song in 60 years.
  • I wish all of you the happiest of Christmas’! Here is Mariah Carey’s video for her mega-hit, All I Want For Christmas Is You.

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