The word ‘carol’ was at first applied to a choric song, then the feet started tapping and a song-dance was born. Now the use of the word is confined, in general, to the season of Christmas. The most glorious of all carols is that which came from the chorus of angels as they jubilantly sang at the announcement of Christ’s birth to the shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, among people of good will!” A traditional carol speaks of this so beautifully: God sent from heaven His finest orchestra! Alleluia, Alleluia! They play for Mary and her Boy! Alleluia, Alleluia! Some play their flute, some bat their drum! Alleluia, Alleluia! But, to come back to earth! St Francis of Assisi and his Friars of 1223 sang the very first carols.
They sang simple verses around the tableau of the crib that Francis had staged. As the crib custom spread, so did these songs of joy and they became more varied and lovely over the years. The puritans, though, with their scant use of music and killjoy-approach to life, almost caused them to be extinguished from the seventeenth century to the nineteenth century; happily, musical hearts brought them out of the closet and used them again.