Every year, as Christmas draws near, the sound of carols fills the air and brings back sweet memories
One evening in December, quite a few years ago, I came home from school to find that an invitation had arrived.
It said that carol singers were going to visit our home a few days later. They were to come sometime in the night, so I was determined to stay up and hear them.
We were a large, joint family and the celebrations for the festival were in full swing.
Finally, the evening I was waiting for, arrived. The lights in the house were kept on to show that we were not asleep.
Around midnight, there was the sound of footsteps outside, happy voices, a bit of laughter, the twang of guitars, and a tap or two on what might have been tom-toms. The carol singers were welcomed inside.
There were about a dozen of them and we all gathered round to listen. They sang a few well-loved carols and then wound up all too soon with "We Wish You a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!" My parents had a gift for them, which they gracefully accepted. There were handshakes and greetings all round and then they were gone.
That was quite a long time ago, but carols sitll fascinate me, for they bring back happy memories, though sometimes there is a twinge of sadness that so many of the elders who were around in those happy days have long since crossed over to the other side.
Not all carols are about religion. Some of them are about the cold weather and others about the celebrations associated with Christmas.
"Winter Wonderland", "Let it Snow" and "Frosty the Snowman" are among my favourites about the weather.
When it comes to stirring up the Christmas spirit of joy, it is hard to beat carols such as "Silver Bells", "The Twelve Days of Christmas", "Happy Holidays", "Feliz Navidad", and, of course,"Jingle Bells."
Among the religious favourites are evergreen carols such as "Silent Night", "Mary's Boy Child", "Joy to the World", "Go, Tell it on the Mountain" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."
I had for a long time thought that all carols were based on original tunes, but over the course of time began to suspect that some of them might be based on "borrowed" tunes. Or maybe it was all coincidence.
When still in school, I noticed that the Tamil Christmas carol "Deva Devan/ Deva Devan/ Deva Palan Piranthar" had the same tune as "Oh, by golly/ Oh, by golly/ Oh, by golly, turpentine." Since it was a favourite carol of my grandmother and her two sisters, I did not have the heart to tell them about this. I simply made sure that I did not sing "Oh, by golly, turpentine" at home.
One of the more popular Christmas carols, "What child is this, who, laid to rest/ On Mary's lap lay sleeping?" seems to have been set to the traditional melody of "Greensleeves", an old English ballad by a composer whose identify is not known with certainty.
The lyrics of the carol were by William Chatterton Dix (1837 - 1898). In William Shakespeare's "The Merry Wives of Windsor" (Act V, Scene V), Falstaff says, "Let the sky rain potatoes/ Let it thunder to the tune of Greenleeves..." Is this a reference to the same song? The melody is claimed to be four centuries old.
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