Every year, around Christmas time, the sound of carols fills the air and brings back sweet memories

I remember the first time traditional carol singers came home. It was quite a few Decembers ago, and I came home from school to find that an invitation had arrived.

It said that a group of carol singers would visit our home a few days later. They were to come some time during the night and I was determined to keep awake to see and hear them.

When the evening I was waiting for arrived, the lights were kept on to indicate that we were not yet asleep. Around midnight, there were sounds of footsteps outside, happy voices, a bit of laughter, the twang of guitars and a tap or two on what may have been tom-toms.

Welcomed inside, the group sang a few well-loved carols and wound up all too soon with "We wish you a Merry Christmas."

Carols are one of the most enduring traditions associated with Yuletide, which stretches roughly from the last week of November to the first week of January. There are still groups of people who go around a locality and sing religious folk songs and hymns at the homes of friends and neighbours.

Singers are treated to cakes and savouries of the season, and perhaps a gift wrapped in colourful paper and decorated with a ribbon.

Though this tradition continues without a break in some places, carols are nowadays heard everywhere, from malls and shopping centres to bookstores and restaurants.

Carols on compact discs make an appearance on the shelves of music stores in November. These songs and hymns are available on websites and internet radio stations as well. New groups appear every year, with carols of their own, or traditional ones set to modern tunes.

Churches invariably organise carol services in the weeks before Christmas, sometimes inside the church itself, if it is large enough. To accommodate larger numbers, the programme is organised in a nearby auditorium or even an open space.

Carol programmes organised by religious groups abroad are often telecast during the season, especially in the evenings when families can gather together as a group and share cakes, sweets and savouries.

Not all carols are about religion; there are many on the cold weather and the joys of celebrating the season with loved ones.

The well-liked 'Jingle Bells' highlights a sleigh ride in the snow and is popular even in places that have rarely seen snow. The lively tune is often included as a ring tone in mobile phones.

'Silent Night', which invariably finds a place in church services during Christmas time, is estimated to have been translated into more than 100 languages from the original 'Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!'

Fr. Joseph Mohr is known to have written the six stanzas of the original carol in 1816. It was set to music two years later by Franz Xaver Gruber.

The carol was sung by the two - songwriter and composer - at the Christmas Eve service in 1818, to the accompaniment of a guitar.

The Silent Night Museum at Mariapfarr, Austria, is a tourist attraction, especially during the winter season.

In 2011, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) included 'Silent Night' in the 'intangible cultural heritage' list.

There is a legend that the organ of the church was out of order and could not be repaired in time for the Christmas service. To make up for this, the song was written and set to guitar music.

Among the modern favourites during the Christmas season is the Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Jose Felciano's 'Feliz Navidad', written in 1970.

Set to a lively tune, with Spanish and English words, Feliz Navidad (Merry Christmas), includes the line 'Prospero ano y felicidad' (A prosperous year and happiness).