On Go Carolling Day, a look at the tradition of singing about red-nosed reindeers and their ilk

The city is dressed in red and green and that Christmassy feeling kicks in fully when the puddings and cakes are baking and the carollers come visiting. Today is Go Carolling Day and we trace the tradition of Christmas carols. While ‘Deck the halls with boughs of holly’ gives you enough reason to be jolly, it is the classics that continue to remain a favourite.

Carolling or singing holiday songs is believed to be one of the oldest customs in Great Britain. It was much later that dance accompanied by singing came to be termed as carols. And still later, the term carol came to imply Christmas songs. However, the practice of door-to-door singing started as an outcome of Christmas carols being banned in the church for a few years by Oliver Cromwell, who thought Christmas was to be a solemn day.

While the earliest Latin Christmas hymns have their origin in fourth century Rome, today, the tradition still thrives. Whether from churches, organisations, colleges or neighbourhood groups, people either do it for fun, charity, to ring in the Christmas season, or to simply share the Christmas message of love and hope.

Sanjana Jacob, a collegian says, “Going carol singing with my youth group from church is good fun. I also like that now many colleges have carol singing competitions and Christmas programs so the carolling continues. But most importantly for me, carol singing is just the simplest way to spread smiles at an old aged home, or a woman suffering a bereavement or empty nesters. To me, Christmas is about making a difference to people around me.”

While people like Sanjana focus on encouraging people in the holiday season, there are others who say they feel all Christmassy only when carollers visit or when they go carol singing themselves. “I feel the thrill of Christmas build up when carollers from different churches and groups come home. While we have CDs and iPods to play carols, there’s nothing quite like a live version! Also, when I go carol singing, I love to see how each family decks their house up differently. The doughnuts, kul kuls and the plum cake we’re served at the end, is a bonus,” quips Rahul Fernandes, an architecture who also belongs to band. For Anita Rajkumar, a home-maker, “Carol singing is about an evening well spent. I stay home all day and it gets quite boring. I either cook, watch TV or knit. So I welcome these three days of change in my otherwise monotonous life.”

Carollers typically set out just a little after twilight and sometimes continue visiting homes and singing till almost daybreak. And while the customary ‘Jingle Bells’, ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ and ‘Joy to the World’ are sung with gusto, traditional hymns such as ‘What Child is This?’ and ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’ are just as popular.

If you think playing Holi or bursting crackers on Deepavali is an inclusive activity, Natalia Job, who runs a kids’ choir says: “Carolling is never restricted to one religion. Even if one is not actively a part of the group, he/she gets to listen to and enjoy the music. Very often, such people welcome us into their homes to sing for them.”

In their own harmonious way, whether to raise money for charity or to comfort those hurting, carol singers invariably spread the Christmas cheer.