Holiday music has its origins in religious practices — both in the Christian and Jewish traditions. The first known Christmas hymns became part of services in fourth century Rome; in the 12th century a Parisian monk began to add Christmas-related lyrics to popular songs, creating the earliest carols.
Christmas carols in English first appeared in a 1426 book, Caroles of Cristemas, probably sung by groups of wassailers, who went from house to house.
Books of Christmas music were bestsellers in 19th century England, popularizing such now-familiar tunes as “The First Noel” (sometimes spelled “Nowell”) and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” American composers made significant contributions to more secular Christmas songs in the mid-twentieth century, many of which contributed new aspects to holiday rituals (such as a certain red-nosed reindeer). In 1942, Bing Crosby recorded an Irving Berlin song that became the world’s best-selling single of all time: “White Christmas,” which will be featured in this year’s Holiday on the Cape.
The custom of Christmas carols, while tied to Christian beliefs, also helps preserve national customs and local traditions. The role of cultural heritage is obviously vital in Hanukkah songs as well. Hanukkah songs similarly developed from religious ritual, with three Hanukkah blessings sung for the lighting of the menorah candles. Many songs focus on candles and light, such as “Ner Li (I Have a Candle),” reflecting the miracle of the lamp oil that lasted for eight days and nights. As with Christmas songs, Hanukkah songs originate from a wide time period; some date back over two thousand years and some, such as Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song,” from the 1990s! The holiday is all about spreading light in dark times – a lovely thought for the season.