Sounding Childhood

Part 4: Christmas Carols

Victorian Christmas Carols: An Introduction

Today, Christmas is extolled as a child-centered holiday, a precedent often attributed to the English Victorian Christmas traditions as popularized by Charles Dickens, where young children, like Tiny Tim, extol the day and, like this unnamed child above, run about the streets singing to both appreciative, and unappreciative, adults.  
As J. A. R. Pimlott wrote, the Victorian “Christmas developed into a preeminently family festival, centred mainly on the children" (Pimlott 85). Indeed, the Victorians are credited with inaugurating, or at least greatly amplifying, both the “Cult of the Child,” as the Victorians recognized the special needs of childhood, which reached its peak in the 1880s-90s, and the “Cult of Christmas,” which gained momentum especially after the 1840s.  Indeed, Christmas had been secondary to Eastertide for early Christians and, though given impetus as Christianity spread throughout the medieval and early modern worlds, it fell away in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with Calvinist and Puritan concerns for the associated frivolity.  Thus, Christmas was not fully embraced until the Victorian era, and as a secular holiday at that: Prince Albert imported the “first” Christmas tree from his German homeland (in 1840), Charles Dickens wrote his instantly successful A Christmas Carol (1843), and an enthusiastic audience on both sides of the Atlantic embraced and extended the traditions of Christmas trees, cards, and carols.
  Carols themselves began to be collected from a variety of sources, often resurrected from previous centuries of the hymn- or folklore traditions and are clearly “adult-centered” yet chosen in high numbers by hymn editors for children’s edification.  By the end of the century, carols were finally being written for children and becoming more “child-centered” as part of the late-century Cult-of-the-Child.

Further Reading:

  • Clapp-Itnyre, Alisa. “O, Come, All Ye Children: Christmas Carols in Victorian Children’s Hymnbooks.”  The Hymn: A Journal of Congregational Song. 68. 1 (Winter 2017). Pp16-23.
  • Connelly, Mark, Christmas: A History. London: I. B. Tauris, 2012. 
  • Forbes, Bruce David.  Christmas: A Candid History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007)
  • Pimlott, J. A. R., The Englishman’s Christmas: A Social History. Hassocks, Sussex: Harvester Press, 1978.
  • Taylor, Derrick, "Why You Love (or Love to Hate) Christmas Music." NYT,  Nov. 24, 2023. (with further history of Christmas music to which I contributed).  Christmas music.

All hymnal scores in the following pages come from 19th or early 20th century hymnals out of copyright and owned by me; they include the British Methodist Sunday School Hymns and Tunes (1879); Golden Bells (c. 1900); Christmas CarolsNY (1910); and Hymnal for American Youth (1919).  They will appear at the last image in the picture gallery at the top of the pages.

Children's Carol Concerts 2023:

CONCERTS: This time a choir of 23 auditioned singers rehearsed for two months in order to prepare for our own Christmas concert at the beautiful Reid Center, formerly the Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church, built in 1906, Richmond, Indiana. We recorded these carols in that space.  We also sang 3 carols at the lovely Leland Legacy for a live radio audience.  Finally, we sang these carols as Pre-Show music to the Richmond Civic Theatre Stage One Youth Theatre's December show, Peter Pan, for two weekends, and were dubbed "The Stage One Carolers."

SINGERS (alphabetical): Vivian Beckerich, Anna Bergfield, Arianna Boehme, 
Maddie Edwards, Zion Ferguson, Lilli Girdley, Amari Gray, Linia Gray, Charleigh Kamps, Rileigh Kamps, Alice Kostiak, Mabel Lainsbury, Hannah Mooney, Evie Murray, Amira Pass, Sophia Quiroz, Abigail Quiroz, Arianna Stevenson, Topanga Stingley, Mia Tembroke, Anyla Varner, Taylor Walton, Stella West.

All names, voices, and pictures of these children are used with their and their parents' permission. 12/2023

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