A Circle of Joy

By Laura L.W. Horan

“Love and joy come to you…” Christmas Carols  originally were chants by pagans that danced around stone circles, like Stonehenge at the Winter Solstice. Eventually the chants turned into songs.  In fact, the new songs were to be sung and written during all four seasons.  But, the merrymaking at Christmas was the only tradition that lasted.

The word ‘carol or carole’ (a French term, taken from the Latin word choraula) originally referred to a ‘circle dance,’ or to dance to something or a song of praise and joy.  The pagan’s songs were of praise, joy and dance, which was unlike the solemn hymns sung in churches. 

Hark!  A herald angel came in the form of St. Frances of Assisi.  He liked the idea the pagans had of the celebration of nature.  He changed the words from the pagan’s songs to religious lyrics. Frances also translated the Latin songs sung in churches to the language the people could understand. He came up with an idea. One midnight clear on Christmas Eve Mass, December 1223, Saint Frances created the first nativity scene.  He used real hay, real animals and used the recycled songs to tell the birth of Christ. With the living nativity scene, it gave the people a sense of what it must have been like for Mary and Joseph.  The manager was away in a cave outside Greccio.  Saint Frances of Assisi believed Christmas should bring Joy to the World.

Before Christmas Carols were sung in churches, people gathered outside to sing, praise and dance. They went house to house to share love and hope of the season.  Refreshments were served and everyone toasted to each other’s health.  The tradition continues. We dance in a circle of joy around O Christmas Tree at the town square, while the carillon of the church rings out Silver Bells. 

December 20th, is “Go Carolling Day.”  So, We Wish You A Merry Christmas…and a Happy New Year.