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What is Caroling?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2016
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When people sing Christmas songs together as a group, this is known as caroling. Many people around the world engage in caroling during the holiday season, including people who are not necessarily religiously devout. In some communities, people retain the tradition of traveling as a group to sing carols to people in their homes. A caroling party can be a fun way to celebrate the holidays with friends and relatives, and it is relatively easy to organize.

Christmas carols are derived from French caroles, secular songs which were designed to accompany dances in the 1100s. Through the late 1300s, people sang these songs at dances and gatherings, and many caroles were quite complex, with multi-part harmonies and singing in the round, which emphasized counterpoints between the voices of various singers. Over time, many of these songs started to develop religious or holiday themes, and the Christmas carol was born.

Many Christmas carols are not necessarily religious, and they are intended to celebrate the season more than a specific holiday. Themes in carols often include ice, warm drinks, and fellowship, with more religious carols referencing the birth of Christ and the surrounding religious events. The tunes for many of these carols are ancient; while the words may have changed, people have been singing these songs for hundreds of years. When sung in harmony, carols can also be quite beautiful.

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Typically, carols are uplifting songs of praise and joy, and caroling is meant to promote happiness, good will, and friendship. In a private home, caroling is usually accompanied with various holiday treats like cookies, spiced cider, cocoa, egg nog, and other seasonal favorites. Carolers tend to join together regardless of skill, although people with less singing ability can be subject to good natured ribbing from the crowd.

Carolers can also gather as a group and travel from house to house. For people who are housebound, caroling can be greatly appreciated, since it brings a bit of the holiday season to them. Depending on the organization doing the caroling, carolers may also carry charity baskets and small presents for people in need, and some people may offer warm drinks or treats to the carolers when they visit. For people who dislike Christmas carols, this charming tradition is distinctly unpleasant, although usually carolers can be deterred by leaving porch lights off or keeping the front of a house dark.

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