Here are the stories behind a few of these better-known carols:
“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”
The song is an English carol that was likely sung by “the waits of olden England,” who “were generally municipal employees and watch-men whose specific duties included singing Christmas carols and songs at city or town-sponsored events.” The song was also featured in “A Christmas Carol,” written by Charles Dickens.
“The Twelve Days of Christmas”
The song first appeared in “Mirth without Mischief” (1780) in England and was meant to be a children’s memory game. The song was written to celebrate the 12 days following Christmas (Dec. 25 to Jan. 6). The latter date honors the day that the three wise men visited Jesus Christ.
“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”
Originally titled “Hymn for Christmas Day,” the song’s words were composed as a poem in 1739 by English author and poet, Charles Wesley. Wesley and his brother, John, were instrumental in founding Methodism. Felix Mendelssohn, a German composer, conductor and pianist, would later compose the music that now accompanies the lyrics. The carol was first published in 1857 in England.
“Joy to the World”
This song also started out as a poem, and was written by Isaac Watts, an English poet and clergyman. Music was added to the lyrics in 1836 by American composer Lowell Mason.
Source: “Best-Loved Christmas Carols: The Stories Behind Twenty-five Yuletide Favorites,” by Ron Clancy.
Some songs capture an event so well, their message transcends multiple generations.
Perhaps that’s why this week, whether sung at church or at home, Christmas carols penned so long ago still find a place in today’s celebrations.
"It just seems to be so festive and it’s something that everybody can relate to," said Patti Clark, who helped organize last month’s Château Élan tour of homes. "It kind of gets you in the spirit of Christmas when you start hearing the Christmas carols."
While visiting houses lavishly laden with holiday garb, visitors were greeted by carolers, — some dressed in period clothing who strolled throughout the grounds, pausing on doorsteps, inside homes or in between to deliver a carol
When Clark began organizing this year’s tour, she thought featuring Christmas carolers would be a great addition for the festive occasion.
The tour is an annual event where several Château Élan residents decorate their homes for the holidays and open them to the public. Proceeds from the event benefit the Gwinnett Children’s Shelter.
"It’s the first time we’ve had actual entertainment on the tour itself," Clark said. "We got a lot of compliments on the carolers. Everybody really seemed to enjoy them."
The tour was one of many events throughout the area that featured caroling this Christmas season.
Some companies even aired less-than-creative TV commercials that featured people caroling about their company’s products.
But when done right, caroling can add just the right touch to a holiday celebration, according to Rick Gebelein, who was among the carolers to perform at Chateau Elan.
Gebelein, a Château Élan resident, sang with the Fifth Row Center Carolers, a group of three individuals from Flowery Branch’s community theater group, Fifth Row Center Stage.
"I enjoy singing, I have a long history of musical theater, so I don’t mind doing it," he said. "We had a good time with it."
Gebelein believes that carols remain popular today thanks to people’s memories of singing and hearing them as a child.
"I think we all grew up listening to and singing carols," he said. "And so when you go out and see a good group of carolers in the proper costumes looking like something out of a Charles Dickens novel, it just adds something very nice to the entire affair."
Still popular today, the origin of the Christmas carol is said to date back to biblical times.
The term "carol" first appeared sometime in the 14th century and can be defined as an old round dance with singing, a song of joy or mirth, or a popular song or ballad of religious joy, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
According to legend and author Ron Clancy, however, the first carol "was sung by angels appearing to the shepherds of Bethlehem and declaring the birth of Christ."
Clancy’s book, "Best-Loved Christmas Carols:
The Stories Behind Twenty-five Yuletide Favorites," explores the history behind several well-known Christmas songs.