Andy Bodkin explores the origin of some of these well known songs.

Andy Bodkin
Andy Bodkin

As soon as the sound of Christmas bells comes on to the radio, I'm ready for it. As a worship leader in my local Church, and CEO at Same Boat Music, I'm thinking about Christmas songs as early as July. Music is a big deal in our house and at no other time does this show up more than at Christmas.

It's no surprise that Christmas music has its origins in the Church. Songs and chants were commonly written to be sung at different times of the liturgical year, including advent, the feast of the Nativity and Epiphany. Some of the earliest records of Christmas music come from as early as the 4th Century. The Latin advent hymn "veni redemptor gentium", translated as "Come Thou Redeemer", is still sung today 1,500 years later.

Christmas carols as we would recognise them started off as folk songs and were often sung in pubs. The word carol actually means to "dance in a ring". Christmas carols first started appearing around the 16th Century with songs such as "The 12 days of Christmas" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentle Men". Carols in a church setting were popularised by the Rev Edward WhiteBenson who invited the towns people into Truro Cathedral to sing lessons and carols which is still popular today.

My personal favourite carol is "Silent Night", written originally by Franz Xaver Gruber in 1818 in Austria. The song was first performed on Christmas eve that year in Austria and has been sung every year across the world since. The tradition of these Christmas songs can help us connect to times gone by, we can imagine how they felt on Christmas eve, singing the same songs we are singing today.

Perhaps the most sought-after Christmas music achievement is the Christmas number 1. The UKs first Christmas number 1 in the singles chart was "Here in my heart" by Al Martino, perhaps not one of the most well-known. Since then Christmas number 1s have included Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody", Cliff Richards "Mistletoe and Wine" and of course East 17's "Stay Another Day". I wonder if people will be singing these 200 years in the future and wondering what it was like singing them when they were new?

Christmas is such a special time of year for the Church and music has such a unique power to bring people together. Singing is a great way to build community, have fun together and proclaim what Christmas really is all about. Same Boat Music's new Christmas album Good News! is a great starting point. Newly recorded by adults and children together, this inter-generational album captures the joyful sound of the season that rings out across all ages. These tracks share the good news of Christmas with celebration and reflection, lighting up churches and homes around the world. Available from FREE for a limited time only. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.