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Caroling in the Celtic Tradition


Carol: A dance or a song of praise and joy.

Originally, the term carol described a song meant for dancing, especially to honor the changing of the seasons, not just the winter season, but every season. Carols were sung and danced in Spring (Beltaine) Summer (Lughnasadh) and Autumn (Samhain).

Play Accompanying Music

Click here to hear "Don Oiche iUd i mBeithil" (Gaelic title) "That Night in Bethlehem" (English translation), as recorded on the CD "To Warm the Winter's Night" available here.

This is one of the few authentic Irish carols to come down to us.

Carol: A dance or song of praise and joy.

Originally a carol described a song meant for dancing, especially to honor the changing of the seasons and not just mid-winter and the holiday season.

Over time, carols were played exclusively at Christmas time in celebration of the birth of Christ. Carols were generally in the vernacular and were not sung at church. Church 'carols' were in the language of the Church which was of course, Latin.

In more recent times, these old carols in both Irish and English have found a place within houses of worship. Besides being banned in church, carols were in fact forbidden altogether at various points in history, both in Ireland and England, particularly under the watchful eye of Oliver Cromwell.

Ironically, carols were viewed as overly pagan since their origins reflected the agricultural cycle of the year by celebrating the changing of seasons. Over time, people adopted these folk melodies to celebrate the birth of Christ. Together with Nativity plays, these stories and tales spread westward throughout Europe together with their variations on story and melody line.

Althought much loved, they were in great danger of dying out. And had it not been for the work of William Sandys and Davis Gilbert (Sandys and Gilbert as they were known), it's likely that such gems as God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, The First Noel, I Saw 3 Ships, While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks and Tomorrow Shall be My Dancing Day, would have been lost to us.

After Vatican II in Ireland, these carols were gradually incorporated into church services. One rare and lovely Irish carol and a personal favorite is the gem "Don Oiche iUd i mBeithil," (That Night in Bethlehem" - recorded on To Warm the Winter's Night. Other carols particular to Ireland are the Kylemore carols.

You can read more here.