Christmas carols are songs (Christian or secular) traditionally interpreted during the holiday season.
According to Catholic tradition, the first Christmas carols were sung by the angels above the manger to celebrate the birth of baby Jesus. Historically, the first Christmas carols were happy songs evoking the Nativity, sometimes even rhythmic songs or dances. From the Middle Ages, it is played “mysteries of the Nativity”, a form of popular theater where New Testament chapters relating to the birth of Jesus are staged. These sketches are accompanied by specific songs, the Christmas carols. They will evolve towards a form called “pastoral”, which focuses on the announcement made to shepherds. Very popular at the courts of the kings in the eighteenth century, pastoral are still popular in some regions. In many Catholic parishes, on Christmas Eve or a few days before, children play Nativity passages, accompanied by Christmas carols. This tradition is called Carol Service in English-speaking countries. It is through these traditions that came the many songs staging the announcement made by angels to shepherds.
The oldest French Christmas song that has survived to this day is the song Entre le bœuf et l’âne gris (Between the ox and the gray donkey); it goes back to the beginning of the 16th century.
In Francw there are are sung chants de Noël, in Wallonia heyes, in Spain villancicos, in Russia koliadki at the doors of houses, in Romania colinde, in Poland kolęda, in Bulgaria koleda, in Italy canti Natalizi or pastorali, in Germany Weihnachtslieder, in the southern Netherlands from the 17th century cantiones natalitiæ.
In England, it is traditional that groups of singers to go from house to house singing Christmas carols, where they are rewarded with a little money, some cakes or an appropriate drink. The money collected is normally donated to a charity.
In the West Indies, at Christmas time, families and friends gather for a Nwel song, a meeting where very rhythmic Christmas songs are performed. These songs have mostly been imported by the missionaries of Europe but the rhythms, and sometimes the lyrics, have been adapted to the local taste.