A popular song, nearly always strophic, often with refrain (burden), sung to celebrate Christmas and its related feasts. Much less frequently, a carol may celebrate other Christian themes, such as Christ’s passion.
   Although carols, until recently, were rarely sung in liturgy, they may have originated in the late Middle Ages as Christmastide substitutes for the Benedicamus Domino versicle that concludes Roman Catholic divine offices. Translated into vernacular languages, they entered the popular repertory. Many medieval carols were preserved in the English collection Piae Cantiones ("Pious Songs") of 1582. In England, Parliament abolished the feast of Christmas from 1644 to 1660, and carol singing declined until the Oxford movement and other such reforms in the 19th century promoted its revival. The first modern Collection of Christmas Carols was published by Davies Gilbert in 1822, while new compositions, in the form of congregational hymns, appeared in the influential Christmas Carols New and {}Old (1871) of Rev. H. R. Bramley. This rise in status culminated in the Oxford Book of Carols of 1928.
   In the 20th century, carols may stand in for antiphons and hymns in Christmas liturgies, and particularly popular is the service of lessons and carols, in which Bible readings alternate with carols, which replace the traditional psalms. Invented in 1880 for Truro cathedral, the service is commonly associated with King’s College, Cambridge.
   See also Noël; Wechselgesang.

Historical dictionary of sacred music. . 2006.


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