Carols were originally pagan songs, sung at the Winter Solstice celebrations as people gathered round stone circles. The word “carol” means a dance or a song of praise and joy.
But in an early re-branding exercise the first Christians absorbed the pagan solstice celebrations and gave people Christian songs to sing instead of pagan ones. In 129, a Roman Bishop said that a song called “Angel’s Hymn” should be sung at a Christmas service in Rome. Many composers started to write ‘Christmas carols’. They weren’t all that popular initially because they were all written and sung in Latin, which most people couldn’t understand. It was all rather hard work and by the thirteenth century many people had stopped celebrating Christmas.
St Francis of Assisi is credited with breathing life back into Christmas when he started his Nativity Plays. The people in the plays sang songs or ‘canticles’ that told the story during the plays in a language that the people watching the play could understand and join in. The new carols spread to France, Spain, Germany and other European countries.
I love the story of how Silent Night came to be written. It’s a nice example of necessity being the mother of invention. On Christmas Eve 1818 the parish priest of St. Nicholas parish church in Obendorf, Father Joseph Mohr faced disaster. The organ had been incapacitated by mice ad there was no chance of fixing the instrument before the evening service. Father Mohr took a poem he had written several years before to the organist of a nearby town, Franz Xaver Gruber and asked that Gruber to write a melody to accompany the poem on guitar. A few hours later Gruber had written the music and Silent Night was played for the first time at the Christmas Eve service that night.
There are lots of carol services locally. Let me recommend some nice options.
The Milton Keynes Community Choir will be holding its Christmas concert on Saturday 14th December 2019 at The Ridgeway Centre, Featherstone Road, Wolverton, MK12 5TH starting at 7.30pm. The 100 strong choir will be singing a mixed programme of specially arranged seasonal music and will feature guest artists. Tickets cost £10 for adults and £5 for children and can be reserved via the choir’s website: www.miltonkeynescommunitychoir.org. The concert will raise funds for Keech Hospice Care who provide specialist care for children from Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Milton Keynes, who have life-limiting and terminal illnesses.
At 3pm on Sunday 15th December, The Parks Trust will be hosting its annual carol afternoon at the Milton Keynes Rose in Campbell Park. The Rose is a public space designed for commemoration, celebration and contemplation. It was created by Gordon Young as a central civic space to host events significance and occasions of remembrance. It is an open-air circle with markings based on the mathematical beauty of a flower. Upon installation 106 granite pillars of varying height were mounted in positions to create the art piece. 64 pillars have been engraved with dedications, leaving 42 for future inscriptions. Bring a lantern and wrap up warm!
Back in Stony on Tuesday 17th December, we have “carols in the pub” at The Stables Bar (back of the Bull Hotel – a full ten second walk from the Butterfly Loft). Then on Thursday 19th December the carols will be in the Fox and Hounds on Stony High Street.
If you prefer your carol service a bit more traditional I’d recommend the ever-popular Carols by Candlelight at Stony Stratford Community Church. There is a service at 7pm on Sunday 22nd December.
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