Carols began thousands of years ago, yet they were not known as Christmas carols specifically. They were sung at what is known as the ‘Winter Solstice’, which is around the 22nd December and is the shortest day of the year. The idea of singing carols used to happen all year round, however it only remained as tradition at Christmas. Originally, these carols were a pagan tradition, but early Christians took over these celebrations and Christian carols were given to sing instead of pagan ones.

A Roman Bishop in AD 129 designated a song called ‘Angel’s Hymn’ to be sung at a Christmas service. Soon after, composers all over Europe began writing Christmas carols. Originally, carols weren’t so popular as they were all written in Latin, a language which a large majority of people were unable to understand. This however was soon changed when St. Francis of Assisi started Nativity plays in 1223. These plays included songs in a language that many more people could understand and the popularity of these songs increased dramatically.

The tradition of Christmas carol singing ceased when Oliver Cromwell came to power in 1647 in England, though people continued to sing in secret. During the Victorian period Christmas carols gained more popularity as two men, William Sandy and Davis Gilbert obtained a lot of carols from various villages throughout England.

The introduction of ‘Waits’ began. ‘Waits’ were official Christmas carol singers, who only sang carols on Christmas Eve. These were the only people permitted to sing carols in public, subsequently taking money from people, as anybody found doing so without the permission of council leaders were considered to be beggars. Soon after though, orchestras began to formulate and singing in public became normal, as people wanted to sing Christmas carols to celebrate and the popularity of carols began to grow.

Just like today, the singing of carols publically became a custom of tradition. Likewise, carol services became a tradition known as candlelit services.