The carols we hear around Christmas are a historical record of the past.

There are some traditions that are so engrained within our culture, we tend not to ever wonder where they first began.

Indeed, the festive season seems to be one tradition after another: crackers, presents, cards, turkey, eggnog, the list is almost endless.

The first actual Christmas is reported to have happened all the way back in 336 AD. Ever since then, in one way or another, people have celebrated on December 25th and many traditions have formed.

Perhaps there are none more so deep-rooted in this annual celebration than Christmas carols. But how long have we been singing these festive songs?

The belief is, the first ‘carol’ ever heard on earth was sung by the angels the night baby Jesus was born. But it took a little while later before we have any historical mentions of human performed carols. And there is one Christian hymn that is said to be the earliest known Christmas song.

Jesus Refulsit Omnium – which translates to: Jesus, Light of All the Nations – was composed in Latin by St. Hilary of Poitiers sometime between 310 and 367. Though there is no exact date given for its creation, there are some who believe St. Hilary created the song after the first Christmas celebration in 336 AD.

However, if you want to know the oldest Christmas hymn that is still performed in churches today, look no further than Corde natus ex Parentis (Of the Father’s Love Begotten). Written by the Roman Christian poet Aurelius Prudentius between 348 and 413, the hymn currently has two English translation which are used in modern performances of the song.

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The carol, which can be traced back to the 12th century, has survived up until today

It took until 1224 before we had, what is believed to be, the birth of the Christmas carol tradition. In Graecia, Italy, St. Francis of Assisi – who is said to be Father of the Christmas carol – chose to lead his followers in jovial songs of praise surrounding the nativity scene.

And if we want to find the earliest Christmas carol, not a hymn, then it may be a song from that same era written by an unknown French author. In English, the title translates to The Friendly Beasts and it was written about the animals surrounding Christ at the nativity. The carol, which can be traced back to the 12th century, has survived up until today and an English version inspired by the original song has been covered by a number of famous musicians, including by Johnny Cash.

Since then, throughout the centuries, carols have come in and out of popularity and approval – Oliver Cromwell even banned Christmas carols during the 17th century – but now in the 20th century, they have become as common and inevitable as the terrible joke in your Christmas cracker.


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