The History of the Christmas Carol |

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2Co 11:14 And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.


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The Christmas Carol

The word of God tells us to engage in the worship of our Creator and Savior through music and song.

James 5:13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.

However, as with every other widely observed Christmas custom, there is also a darker side to Christmas caroling. Mr. Miles, in his book Christmas in Ritual and Tradition states the precursor to the Christmas carol was Christmas poetry. He further states the reformation marks a change in the character of Christmas poetry in England and much of Germany.

"After the Reformation the English domestic Christmas largely loses its religious colouring, and the best carols of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries are songs of feasting and pagan ceremonies rather than of Holy Child and His Mother" (Miles 76-77).

This quote tells us of the pagan influence on the Christmas carol after the reformation. Also, Mr. Miles' choice of words and capitalization of the word mother suggests the pre-reformation Christmas carol may have involved the worship of Mary. The following quote exposes the nature of the pre-reformation Christmas carol.

"So too with the Noels or Christmas Carols. Many of these are extant in fifteenth century MSS. in France, just as in England, but it is not till the sixteenth century that the form reaches its fullest vogue. . . .  These poems are exclusively literary in character, the work of clerks or recognised poets, often written to old airs [tunes or melodies], and sometimes composed with special music for the picturesque ceremonial of Christmastide. To a great extent they anticipate the spirit which stimulated the Reformers to turn the popular and often obscene songs into good and godly ballads. They are all of a kind, like the version of the drinking song, 'Quand la mer Rouge apparut,' [When the Red Sea appeared]" (Smith, G. 217).

Mr. Miles echoes the words of Mr. Smith, describing the pre-reformation carols as being songs of "feasting and worldly rejoicing."

"In French there is little or no Christmas poetry, religious in character, before the fifteenth century ; the earlier carols that have come down to us are songs rather of feasting and worldly rejoicing than of sacred things" (Miles 55).

Many sources seem to credit the French with the invention of the word carol. These sources also make a secular and pagan connection to the original practice of caroling.

"The word carol finds its source in the Old French carole, which indicates both a ring dance and the song that accompanies it — apparently performed with great exuberance, for by the early fourteenth century, carol came to mean celebrating in general" (Lindahl 140).

The practice of caroling appears to have often combined a religious element with celebration as it still does to this day. The religious element must fit in with the style of celebration to be accepted by the masses. The celebration aspect of caroling has always been in the spirit of the natural world with feasting, greenery, and the like. Therefore, the religious element has always been after the manner of the natural world or occult. The circle is a very important symbol to the worshipers of the natural world. It has a myriad of symbolic meanings depending upon how it is used. The occult world often uses it as a representation of completeness, wholeness, unity, eternity, the universe, a goddess, mother earth, the world serpent, the circle of life, and of course the sun, among other things. The following quote describes the dance which was traditionally associated with the carol.

"The dance itself consisted of alternate periods of standing to count time and left-ward (sunwise) motion in a ring or serpentine line. . . . The dance portion consisted most commonly of three steps to the left with accompanying arm motions, sometimes including sexually suggestive gestures" (Lindahl 141).

There is frequently a connection to sun worship in Christmas traditions. The above quote shows the connection to sun worship in this instance: the circle itself is representative of the sun, and the movement of the circle is in a "sunwise" motion. Later in the same article, we see how serious that sun connection was during an examination of the witch trials of the sixteenth century. The so-called witches were often forced to confess to caroling. What was so different about the way witches caroled? They moved in the opposite direction.

"The witches' carol was a perverse parody of the secular dance: instead of facing each other, the dancers faced outward from the ring, and in so doing moved 'widdershins,' or against the motion of the sun" (Lindahl 141).

Mr. Miles also describes a pagan significance to the association of the Christmas carol with the coming of spring.

"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" (Miles 47).

The "coming of spring" connection is in harmony with many other pagan foundations of Christmas ritual. Those Christmas rituals directly connected to sun worship are often representative of the rebirth of the natural world after the winter solstice. This connection to the rebirth of the world is probably made most manifest in a tradition called Wassailing. We will get to the pagan significance of the wassail in a moment. First, we will look at the connection between the wassail and the carol.

During the previous section dealing with Christmas charity, we briefly looked at the practice of wassailing. Part of the wassailing ritual often included drinking songs.

"This exchange of gifts for goodwill often included the performance of songs, often drinking songs" (Nissenbaum 9).

"Now long in darkness and in gloom she lay,
Till Wickliffe rose, the 'morning star of day;'
At length the light of reformation broke
The clouds of error and the popish yoke.
O may its lustre shine from shore to shore,
Till Popish relicks shall be known no more!
Christians will then nor oak, nor holly use,
To grace their churches, and adorn their pews;
The birth of Christ will then no longer be
The cause of drunken mirth and revelry"
(Juvenis 540).

The use of drinking songs while wassailing fits in perfectly with the descriptions of the early Christmas carols as being obscene drinking songs with lyrics of feasting and worldly rejoicing.

On page seven of his book, Mr. Nissenbaum quotes Reverend Henry Bourne of Newcastle, England who, in 1725, condemned caroling because "it was generally done, in the midst of Rioting and Chambering, [fornication] and Wantonness" (Nissenbaum). There are no shortage of quotes from post reformation religious leaders condemning Christmas caroling solely on the basis of the drunken, riotous behavior which the practice accompanied. Some of these quotes come from religious leaders such as Bourne who actually approved of keeping Christmas. There are also an abundance of quotes condemning Christmas altogether. Here is one in the form of a poem. The partial quote comes from a poem in an 1821 Baptist magazine out of London. The last two lines of the quote tell us people were using the birth of Christ as an excuse for getting drunk. The footnotes below the first half of the poem also show the writer understood Christmas traditions have a connection to the extreme dark side of paganism: human sacrifice.

Footnotes "The misletoe was thought to contain a divine virtue, and to be the peculiar gift of heaven.
Bulls were sacrificed, and the Deity invoked to bless his own gift, and render it efficacious to cure distempers.
A large basket of wicker work, in the form of a man, was filled with victims taken in war, who were immolated in sacrifice to Esus, or Hesus, the god of the oak"
(Juvenis 539).

The Gloucestershire Wassail

Wassail! wassail! all over the town,
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown;
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree;
With the wassailing bowl , we'll drink to thee.

Here's to our horse, and to his right ear,
God send our master a happy new year:
A happy new year as e'er he did see,
With my wassailing bowl I drink to thee.

So here is to Cherry and to his right cheek
Pray God send our master a good piece of beef
And a good piece of beef that may we all see
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee.

Here's to our mare, and to her right eye,
God send our mistress a good Christmas pie;
A good Christmas pie as e'er I did see,
With my wassailing bowl I drink to thee.

So here is to Broad Mary and to her broad horn
May God send our master a good crop of corn
And a good crop of corn that may we all see
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee.

And here is to Fillpail and to her left ear
Pray God send our master a happy New Year
And a happy New Year as e'er he did see
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee.

Here's to our cow , and to her long tail,
God send our master us never may fail
Of a cup of good beer : I pray you draw near,
And our jolly wassail it's then you shall hear.

Come butler, come fill us a bowl of the best
Then we hope that your soul in heaven may rest
But if you do draw us a bowl of the small
Then down shall go butler, bowl and all.

Be here any maids? I suppose here be some;
Sure they will not let young men stand on the cold stone!
Sing hey O, maids! come trole back the pin,
And the fairest maid in the house let us all in.

Then here's to the maid in the lily white smock
Who tripped to the door and slipped back the lock
Who tripped to the door and pulled back the pin
For to let these jolly wassailers in.

Besides the drinking, one can still quite easy connect the Christmas carol to wassailing. Some of the Christmas carols themselves provide the most incriminating evidence of not only the connection but of the activities and crudeness of the tradition. One could hardly deny the connection between wassailing and an old Christmas carol titled The Gloucestershire Wassail.

The Gloucestershire Wassail appears to encapsulate all of the various components of a traditional wassail. It incorporates the alcohol tradition by making perfectly clear the drink is ale, speaking of beer, and ending every verse with a toast. Most verses contain well-wishing in the form of a prayer on behalf of the recipient. As with all good drinking songs, there is adequate use of nonsensical or irrelevant terms used for the sole purpose of making a rhyme. It contains some subtleties such as the use of the word cheek to refer to the flank of the steer which will become beef for the one being wassailed. There is a simple cryptic pattern for the receiver to puzzle over. For example, the second, fourth, and sixth verses are in reference to horses while the third, fifth, and seventh verses are in reference to bovine. The second and third verses reference male animals while the fourth through seventh verses reference female animals. The mention of body parts allows the wassailers to act out the song after the manner of the ring dance. The use of the right side in all but one instance increases the odds of an increasingly inebriated wassailer making a mistake while acting out the song. This will of course be most entertaining to his drunken cohorts who can then have a hearty laugh at his expense. There is a threat to the butler if he does not draw as much liquor or beer as the wassailers think he should, and finally a verse ripe with sexual innuendo is directed toward the maid. Naturally, both Christmas and New Year are mentioned tying the wassail to the Christmas season.

The song We Wish You a Merry Christmas was born in the spirit of the wassail. There are several different versions of the song. The well-wish is generally the title and the chorus line, and figgy pudding is the treat expected in exchange for the wassailer's efforts. Some versions include a threat of not leaving until the expectations of the wassailers are met. The cup of good cheer is of course some sort of alcoholic beverage, and again, the mention of Christmas and New Year tie the wassail to the season.

Wassailing, in its strictest sense, is simply the well-wishing of a fellow person. However, the well-wishing associated with wassailing has often left the bounds of humanity crossing into the animal and plant world. We find the pagan heritage of the Christmas carol at this junction of wassailing and plant world. Mr. Miles suggests Christmas Caroling derives from a Christianized form of plant worship. The participants of the ritual formed processions conveying blessings to each house they passed by carrying "sacred elements" made up of plant parts or whole trees. They were also sometimes accompanied by animals.

"Closely akin to the worship of animals is that of plants, and especially trees, and there is much evidence pointing to sacramental cults in connection with the plant-world. . . . Benediction by external contact, again, is suggested by the widespread use in various ways of branches or sprigs or whole trees. The Christmas-tree and evergreen decorations are the most obvious examples; we shall see others in the course of our survey, and in connection with plants as well as with animals we shall meet with processions intended to convey a blessing to every house by carrying about the sacred 'elements' — to borrow a term from Christian theology. Even the familiar practice of going carol-singing may be a Christianized form of some such perambulation" (Miles 177-78).

Christmas carolers will often pronounce a blessing upon their human audience whether they go door to door or remain in one spot. In addition to wassailing people, Mr. Miles describes the practice of wassailing trees. The following is only one of several examples of this practice given by Mr. Miles.

"In Sussex the wassailing (or 'worsling') of fruit-trees took place on Christmas Eve, and was accompanied by a trumpeter blowing on a cow's horn.
The Wassailing of the trees may be regarded as either originally an offering to their spirits or — and this seems more probable — as a sacramental act intended to bring fertilizing influences to bear upon them"
(Miles 345).

Whether the intent was "a sacramental act intended to bring fertilizing influences to bear" or "an offering to their spirits," the act of wassailing plants is well outside the bounds of Biblical Christianity and well into the realm of the occult and paganism.

The article from the Medieval Folklore Encyclopedia also speaks about the common theme of praising greenery in the carols. The article specifically points to a couple of Christmas carols called In Praise of Holly and In Praise of Ivy. The act of praising greenery is still very common in modern Christmas carols. We will now look at another Christmas carol which clearly idolizes a plant. This ever popular carol is called Oh Christmas Tree.

Oh Christmas Tree

Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree!
The leaves are so unchanging
Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree,
The leaves are so unchanging

Not only green when summer's here,
But also when it's cold and drear.
Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree,
Thy leaves are so unchanging!

Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree,
Such pleasure do you bring me!
Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree,
Such pleasure do you bring me!

For every year the Christmas tree,
Brings to us all both joy and glee.
Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree,
Such pleasure do you bring me!

Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree,
You'll never be unchanging!
A symbol of goodwill and love
You'll ever be unchanging

Each shining light
Each silver bell
No one alive spreads cheer so well

Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree,
You'll ever be unchanging!

This is one of those songs many people will mindlessly sing along to without giving the lyrics much thought. It is so ingrained into American culture there seems to be a naive presumption surely someone long ago checked it out and gave it the okay. However, if we look at the lyrics, we will quickly realize this song is hardly in line with Biblical Christian values. In fact, God would need to do away with the second commandment for this song to be sung by Christians.

Exo 20:4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
Exo 20:5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
Exo 20:6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

The god of this song can only be seen as the Christmas tree. There is no mention of Christ. There is only admiration for the tree and the decorations it holds. In this song, the tree brings pleasure, joy, and glee. In this tune, the tree spreads cheer better than anyone who is alive. This song claims the tree is the symbol of goodwill and love. The Christmas tree takes on some of the Characteristics of God in this carol. The love which should be reserved for Christ is directed toward the tree. The tree takes the place of Christ; this is idolatry. There are a few different versions of this song. Apparently someone must have given the lyrics some thought at one point because at least one version adds God into the very last verse. This hardly negates the balance of the song especially considering the added verse has God Himself decorating the tree.

There are many other Christmas carols which should also cause alarm bells to sound in the Christian mind. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is one such carol. This song is about mythological flying reindeer who pull Santa through the sky. We have already looked at the Santa myth and the pagan origins associated with that myth. This is an impostor who is stealing the minds of children away from their Savior, and the mythological Rudolph is helping him do it.

The Bible tells us to sing songs to God.

1Ch 16:9 Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him, talk ye of all his wondrous works.

This verse tells us to talk about the wondrous works of God. Do these Christmas carols do that? One could hardly find praise for the wonderful works of God in these carols or many others. Since the beginning of the attempt to Christianize the pagan celebrations into Christmas, there has always been a battle between the church and those who desired secularism and paganism. Those who enjoyed the pagan rites would willingly fall under the Christian banner in name, but they would not be changed. Their desire was, and still is, for the ritual rather than the relationship. Therefore, when Christian principles get in the way, they have always simply covered their existing ritual or tradition with a "Christian" veil.

"Nearly all extant references to carols come from religious prohibitions and exempla that link the singing and dancing of carols to sacrilegious activities. In an attempt to address cultural resistance against banning the popular secular songs, the Franciscans actively sought to retain well-known tunes, either alternating their lyrics to discard lewd or secular subjects or attempting to interpret the words of the songs in a religious vein. The carols, however, carried the added offense of being associated with non-Christian cultural practices. And because they were performed at holiday times, they attracted special condemnation from clerics promoting the pious observance of Christian feasts" (Lindahl 140-41).

The gospel song is responsible for injecting doctrinal error directly into the heart of the church.

This article goes on to tell the reader carols were often banned on church grounds and in Christian neighborhoods during the years between 600 and 1500. We must remember people can never be forced into giving up their rituals and traditions, neither should they be. God never forces Himself on anyone, and we should never try to force Him on anyone either. The relationship between Christian and Christ must come willingly. The attempts to ban pagan rituals only succeed in burying them deeper beneath the "Christian" veil. This makes the pagan root harder to recognize by those who are sincerely seeking to serve God. The most we should do is expose the error; each of us must make the choice between the traditions of man and the Word of God. So far this section has exposed the pagan root of the Christmas carol. Now we must look at the more subtle and damaging aspect of the Christmas carol to the church as a whole.

The congregation lifting its voice in song is a form of worship, and we would do well to remember one of the warnings we are given about Satan.

2Co 11:14 And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.

The Bible tells us Satan may appear as an angel of light. Surely, he is well aware of the subliminal powers of the chorded verse. Anyone who has ever tangled in their mind with a song which would not cease understands the uninvited salesman enters the brain through the jingle. The physical ear and its inner workings being the perceived limit of the melody is a fallacy. Even the deaf feel the thumping bass and vibratory rhythm of the drum pouring from the rock-n-roll god's amplifier. However, the real danger is not in the obvious but in the illusive. The power of the country goddess to control the emotions of her congregation is evident. The ability of the jazz idol to infect the spirit of his following is unmissable. The unimaginable influence the divine rapper holds over his willing subjects is apparent, yet the graceful gospel singer is the one who captures the unsuspecting soul. The gospel song is responsible for injecting doctrinal error directly into the heart of the church. How many who regularly attend church have not noticed a glaring example of doctrinal error in one of the songs mindlessly poured forth from the congregational mouth? The Christmas carol opened the door for this devious deception.

"During the seventeenth and well into the eighteenth century, most New England congregations used the so-called Bay Psalm Book, a rhymed version of the Old Testament Psalms, with additional hymns taken from various biblical sources (this was the first book published in New England). None of these hymns dealt with the Christmas story.

But by the 1750s the Bay Psalm Book had largely been replaced in New England churches by a pair of new verse translations of the Psalms, both of which contained Christmas hymns"
(Nissenbaum 33).

The poet and the hymnist were given the same literary weight and apostolic vision as the inspired writers of the Bible through the Christmas carol. By means of the Christmas carol, the poet and the clerk were able to infect the congregation with idolatrous doctrine. The poet is not as knowledgeable or as discerning as the theologian when choosing doctrinally harmonious words and phrases. This is especially true when the poet comes from outside the faith, which many of the Christmas carol authors certainly did.

"The noel has attracted by its aesthetic charm even poets who are anything but devout" (Miles 64).

Above all Christmas rituals of pagan origin, the Christmas carol and the subsequent uninspired hymns are most responsible for the introduction of doctrinal error into the church. The melodic worship intended for God is now being stolen away by thieves such as trees, crosses, and flying reindeer.

Are Christmas Carols a Form of Praise Music?

1. The word of God tells us to engage in the worship of our Creator and Savior through music and song.
2. Christmas carols are often written by people from outside the Christian faith and are songs of feasting and worldly rejoicing rather than songs of praise.
3. Historians say Christmas carols originated as drinking songs.
4. The Christmas carol has very strong ties to wassailing. Christmas carol lyrics provide the most incriminating evidence of not only the connection but of the activities and crudeness of the tradition.
5. The reformers often changed the lyrics in an attempt to Christianize the popular and often obscene songs.
6. Some historians say the pagan influence on the Christmas carol increased after the reformation.
7. The Christmas carol is a descendant of a pagan ring dance with ties to sun worship.
8. So-called witches were condemned for failing to perform the ring dance in a "sunwise" motion.
9. Post reformation religious leaders almost universally condemned Christmas caroling on Biblical grounds.
10. Many of the most popular Christmas carols today are wassails, and many also retain clearly pagan messages.
11. Historians tie Christmas carols to plant worship also.
12. Some of the most popular carols, like Oh Christmas Tree, are obvious examples of the connection to plant worship.
13. Door-to-door caroling is a remnant of a plant worship ritual where processions conveyed blessings to each house they passed by carrying "sacred elements" made up of plant parts or whole trees.
14. The lack of Christmas carols in the Bay Psalm Book led churches to change the source of praise music from a Biblical source to worldly sources. This opened the door for the gospel song to inject doctrinal error directly into the heart of the church.
15. The poet, clerk, and hymnist were given the same literary weight and apostolic vision as the inspired writers of the Bible through the Christmas carol.
16. Above all Christmas rituals of pagan origin, the Christmas carol and the subsequent uninspired hymns are most responsible for the introduction of doctrinal error into the church. The melodic worship intended for God is now being stolen away by thieves such as trees, crosses, and flying reindeer.
17. Christmas carols are not a good fulfilment of the Biblical idea of praising God through song.

Our journey through Christmas traditions will now let us look at a lesser known tradition called mumming.


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