• Solstice and the Carols

    Posted on December 22, 2017 by in Blog
    When we speak of songs called carols, we all think they have something to do with the Christmas story or winter holiday season. “Carol” actually comes from the Old French “caroler,” which originally referred to circle dances that occurred at all times of the year. These circle dances were symbolic of the cycles of the year and of life – of planting and harvest, winter and summer solstices. These dances had nothing in particular to do with Christmas until the church came in used these popular tunes with the words of the Christmas story, as Christmas gradually replaced the winter solstice celebrations.

    Les Anges Dans Nos Campagnes was an old French carol that rose from these traditions. Shepherds in Languedoc France supposedly sang it back and forth between their flocks on Christmas Eve. The tune probably originated in the 18th century, though some sources place it as possibly coming from as early as the 16th century. The full French text is a dramatic dialogue between the shepherds and the women of Bethlehem (here are more details), with the “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” being the first recorded Christmas carol – the angel proclamation of Jesus birth related in Luke 2:8-20 (NIV)

    14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
        and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

    Here’s an exuberant video version of the French original:

    The English text for the tune was a loose paraphrase of the French original published in 1862 by the English Catholic Bishop James Chadwick (1813-1882) in a collection called Crown of Jesus. Its popularity has spread around the world, in various English language and instrumental versions.

    So, this carol comes from a pagan tradition of circle dances connected with the solstice, then combines a tune and text originating in France some time between the 16th-18th centuries, and travels through an English paraphrase from the mid 1800s, to retell the first recorded Christmas carol of the angels proclaiming “Gloria” over a stable in Bethlehem.

    We had fun perusing different YouTube versions. Here are a few fun, beautiful, and surprising performances of English and instrumental versions. Enjoy!

    English Language Versions

    With lyrics and stained glass:

    Chanticleer with Yule log:

    Celtic Sojourn!

     Aretha Franklin in a very R.E.S.P.E.C.T.able version

    American Sign Language:

    Would you believe Punk from Bad Religion?

    Instrumental Versions:
    The haunting Array mbira, a hand-crafted modern radical redesign of the African mbira.

    Tower Brass of Chicago:

    Richard Elliot (Hauptwerk Organ)

    And Bagpipes!

    Enjoy the tunes of the season as the days begin to lengthen!


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