Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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MEDIAEVAL ENGLISH CAROLS
We have been following on German ground a mediaeval tradition that has continued unbroken down to modern days ; but we must now take a leap backward in time, and consider the beginnings of the Christmas carol in England.
Not till the fifteenth century is there any outburst of Christmas poetry in English, though other forms of religious lyrics were produced in considerable numbers in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. When the carols come at last, they appear in the least likely of all places, at the end of a versifying of the whole duty of man, by John Awdlay, a blind chaplain of Haghmon, in Shropshire. In red letters he writes :—
" I pray you, sirus, boothe moore and lase, Sing these caroles in Cristemas,"
and then follows a collection of twenty-five songs, some of which are genuine Christmas carols, as one now understands the word.26
A carol, in the modern English sense, may perhaps be defined as a religious song, less formal and solemn than the ordinary Church hymn—an expression of popular and often naive devo­tional feeling, a thing intended to be sung outside rather than within church walls. There still linger about the word some echoes of its original meaning, for " carol" had at first a secular or even pagan significance : in twelfth-century France it was used to describe the amorous song-dance which hailed the coming of spring ; in Italian it meant a ring- or song-dance ; while by English writers from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century it was used chiefly of singing joined with dancing, and had no neces­sary connection with religion. Much as the mediaeval Church, with its ascetic tendencies, disliked religious dancing, it could not always suppress it ; and in Germany, as we shall see, there was choral dancing at Christmas round the cradle of the Christ Child. Whether Christmas carols were ever danced to in Eng-
rest of Him is white as chalk. His pretty hands are right tender and delicate, I touched Him carefully. Then He gave me a smile and a deep sigh too. If you were mine, thought I, you'd grow a merry boy. At home in the kitchen I'd comfortably house you ; out here in the stable the cold wind comes in at every corner."
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