What is a Christmas carol?
It is one of the most important literary subgenres, belonging to one of the oldest and most relevant genres for the evolution of literature and other artistic fields such as music, since the carol was born as a poetic composition written to be sung and that, in its beginnings, consisted of a profane composition that gained popularity with the passage of time, although soon the religious aspect was incorporated in relation to Christmas.
Thus, once the carols were composed, they began to be sung in sacred centers for Catholic Christianity, such as churches and temples relevant to the follower community.
Thus, its term comes especially from the people who were dedicated to the singing of this type of lyrical compositions, since the inhabitants who belonged to the rural villages were called -villanos- (villagers). Thus, carols began as a type of composition capable of recording the daily life of the inhabitants of the towns and rural areas of the time, which classified it as a type of profane composition.
Definition of villancico
It is one of the most important and oldest types of lyrical composition in literature with a great musical link that structures the villancico as a traditional poetic composition of the Castilian language. Its meaning is often associated with religious or spiritual references, although with the passing of time, other varied themes were incorporated into it according to the concerns of the time.
Nowadays, the villancico is associated with religion whose lyrics are mainly related to the Christmas season during the month of December, omitting to a great extent the structure and the initial origin of this type of poetic composition.
Origin of the Christmas carol
It is considered that the birth of the carol dates back to the 15th century with the modification of popular songs that belonged to antiquity. Towards the 16th century the Church began to promote music that was written in vernacular language within the masses, this was done with the main purpose of increasing the evangelizing practice. Many churches will begin to have musicians and composers who will dedicate themselves to the interpretation of Christmas carols in the masses and in external areas during special times.
This is how finally the carol will be associated mainly with religion in substantial times for the Catholic Christian beliefs such as Christmas, referring to a term associated with a musical genre whose lyrics sing religious and spiritual narratives.
Characteristics of the Christmas carol
Let’s see the most important characteristics of this poetic and musical composition that has managed to spread around the world:
Themes of Christmas carols
Although the carol as a composition is closely related to religious themes, they are not the only ones that appear in its writing and singing, since carols could also refer to love stories, social situations and many of these themes could also be permeated by satirical and burlesque content.
As mentioned above, due to the themes they contained, Christmas carols were initially considered profane, since they were popular songs that were sung and written by the villains (inhabitants of the villages) and peasants, who narrated events of their time and environment, as well as news of the moment and another series of manifestations of their context. Thus, these inhabitants recorded in this type of songs their daily life in the villages and surrounding areas.
Christmas carols were sung mainly in popular festivities, however, the themes they dealt with were not necessarily religious, so they could also be sung in other kinds of situations.
Christmas carols, like other poetic and musical compositions, reach a great diffusion in the world, so that nowadays Christmas carols have touched a great number of continents and countries, who in their translations and creations, have allowed to find Christmas carols in French, German, English, Italian, Portuguese, but most of them are in Spanish, according to their source of origin.
In particular, Christmas carols are usually in minor art, so that they are composed of hexasyllables and octosyllables, which allows the composition to achieve the musicality that characterizes them and thus to adapt the accompaniment of musical instruments, in addition to favoring the memorization of the lyrics.
In principle, we recognize some musical instruments that are still used today to accompany the singing of Christmas carols, and although they are maintained, it is important to recognize that modernity has incorporated other instruments to change and improve their format. In general, the musical instruments most commonly used for their accompaniment are the lute, drum, flute, guitar, castanets, tambourine, bagpipes and zambomba. This, without forgetting the accompaniment of the palms of the hands that is still practiced by children and adults in the singing.
Parts of the carol
The carol is composed of the following elements:
The carol can be composed of two to four verses which are the ones that present the theme of the composition:
In this part, the composition may be figured by one or several stanzas that often become a redondilla.
Also known as enlace, it refers to the fact that a verse can link one or several lines of verse that repeat in whole or in part the refrain of the carol.
How to write a carol?
Now, to write a composition like these, it is necessary to have all the information about its structure, as we saw above, in addition to a number of basic aspects that will allow you to turn to sources of inspiration to start with the creation. Let’s see:
Choose a theme
For the writing of the carol, it is key to have the theme we want to write about, and composing one according to the current carol, implies referring directly to this Christmas season.
To select a specific theme, we can consider several aspects, not only those that are already written in classic carols and that narrate the values of sharing at this time, but you can also recall experiences, common situations that are lived during Christmas, such as the preparation of food, the uncovering of gifts, Christmas Eve, among others.
Try and start writing
Once you have chosen the topic, it’s time to start writing and test the approach it could have. One of the most important characteristics of the carol is the structure it maintains throughout the work, so you should refer to the way it is presented to start writing.
You must start from the idea you want to develop and its relation to Christmas. You can talk about the same situation but told by a child, told by an adult or an old man. You have a lot of options.
Identify how it will be sung
Christmas carols are compositions that can easily stay in the memory, as they usually use repetition of verses and keep a catchy rhythm that makes it easy to remember, so it is key that you choose a catchy and simple melody. The way in which it will be sung, the repetition of words and the game you can create with them, allows it to be to the liking of the memory, so it will be recorded more easily and will hook more people who hear it.
Try and sing
Now that you have identified how your carol will be sung, start to try and sing it to evaluate possibly words that you can modify and improve, you could even try another melody and apply a different rhythm that allows you to present an updated carol, even modern, innovative and ingenious.
Another aspect to keep in mind is that you must give it your own touch. Originality is an important element to remain in the memory of those who listen to the composition, so you will gain identification among the possible options.
The writing of a composition like this is not as simple as it seems, in fact it requires a lot of time and dedication to create a work that can be launched to the public. That is why we recommend you to read, listen and sing the most known Christmas carols worldwide, from there you could even extract ideas and get an idea of the characteristics of the most known ones and their success.
Authors and most important works
Among the most popular carols we can find: “Silent Night”, “The Drummer Boy”, “Bell over Bell”, “Shepherds Come”, “Tutaina”, “The Little Donkey of Bethlehem”, “Sweet Jesus”, “Merry Christmas”, “Rudolph the Reindeer”, “The Fish in the River”, among many others. On the other hand, we find authors of these compositions such as Juan del Enzina, although most of them are anonymous. Important collections have been compiled throughout history that facilitate their recognition and dissemination, such as the well-known “Cancionero de la Colombina”, also called “Cancionero Musical de la Colombina”, which includes compositions from the Renaissance.
Example of a Christmas carol
One of the most remembered carols that is still sung today is “Silent Night”, here is a fragment of this composition:
Silent night, night of love
All is sleeping around
Among the stars that spread their light
Beautiful announcing the child Jesus
Shines the star of peace
Shines the star of love.
Night of peace, night of light
Jesus is born
Little shepherds who hear herald
Do not be afraid when you enter to adore
That love is born
That love is born.
From the manger of the Christ child
The whole earth is filled with light
For Jesus is born
Amid songs of love