Silent Night - Deepstash

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Christmas carols: the history behind 5 festive favourites

Silent Night

Silent Night was a favourite throughout the19th century.

One charming tale tells of mice chewing through pieces of St Nikola's organ, leaving the church without music on Christmas Eve 1818. Schoolmaster Frans Xaver Gruber and priest Joseph Mohr stepped in to save the day by composing a simple carol that could be sung with just guitar accompaniment.

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The Precursor To The Christmas Tree
The Precursor To The Christmas Tree

Church records from the 15th and 16th centuries show that holly and ivy were bought in the winter. Private houses were also decorated with greenery at this time.

The precursor to the Christ...

The Origins of Christmas Trees

In Germany, "Paradise Plays" were performed to celebrate the feast day of Adam and Eve, which was on Christmas Eve. A tree of knowledge was represented by an evergreen fir with apples tied to its branches.

In 1419, a guild in Freiburg put up a tree decorated with apples, wafers, tinsel and gingerbread.

The Oldest Christmas Tree Markets
  • They were in present-day France and sold unadorned Christmas trees during the 17th century.
  • The first decorated indoor tree was recorded in 1605, in Strasbourg, decorated with roses, apples, wafers and other sweets.
  • Demand for Christmas trees grew so high in the 15th century that laws were passed in Strasbourg to prevent people from cutting pine branches.
  • In the 1530s, the region of Alsace was limited to one tree per household.
Community singing is on the rise again
Community singing is on the rise again

Until recent times, community singing was thought to have decreased in popularity, suggesting less of a sense of tradition than there used to be.

But in recent years, there have been signs...

The history of carols
  • Carols are thought to be originally pagan songs performed to a circle dance celebrating calendar customs. They gradually became associated with Christian religious festivals, such as Christmas and Easter.
  • Christmas carols are not necessarily about religion. People connect carols with the sense of tradition and community more than a religious association. The main strength of carolling is people coming together.
Caroling: the community feeling

Christmas is one of the few times people feel they can sing together. Christmas songs are one of the few remaining national repertoires.

As you go in from a cold night into a warm pub full of people who want to share the songs, you gain a deep sense of pride and connection, and you're sharing the traditional with past and future generations.

Sticky Tunes: When Songs Become Earworms
Sticky Tunes: When Songs Become Earworms
  • The songs that get stuck in our heads, those catchy but often annoying earworms are common, especially the Christmas melodies during the holiday season.
  • New research into these...
The U-shaped Curve Of Liking
  • White Christmas by Irving Berlin is the best selling single of all time and is studied on why it is popular for decades, and sold over 50 million copies. It seems to fall into the category of a likeable earworm.
  • Most songs follow a U-shaped curve of liking. New music isn’t liked very much, but as it gets familiar and is heard repetitively (on the radio and in the mall), one tends to like it more.
  • This repetition effect is U-shaped as too much exposure diminishes the fondness towards the song.
When Songs Keep Coming Back To You
  • The reason we like the Christmas songs every year lies in the U-shaped curve of liking being a cycle.
  • A person, after getting fed up from a song, starts to move away from it, but after a span of time, is again exposed to the same song, tends to like it as before (for a while). This is called the ‘Squirrel’ approach to listening.
  • It is also the reason many CDs of old bands which we dumped, sound great when we hear them after a long time.