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 in his Christmas Carol, extol the day and, like other children in the novel, run about the streets singing carols to both appreciative, and unappreciative, adults (like Scrooge!).  
Christmas traditions truly came into their own during the Victorian period, 1837-1901, when Queen Victoria was on the throne in England. And these traditions included children: as J. A. R. Pimlott writes, the Victorian “Christmas developed into a preeminently family festival, centred mainly on the children" (Pimlott 85). 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.  For centuries, Christmas had been secondary to Eastertide: this was true for early Christians and, though Christmas gained special songs and traditions 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 (in 1843), and an enthusiastic audience on both sides of the Atlantic celebrated and extended the traditions of Christmas trees, Christmas cards, and carols.

Carols themselves truly came into their own during this time and were collected from a variety of sources: often resurrected from previous centuries of the hymn- or folklore traditions (eg, "The First Noel") or newly written and set to Romantic composers' scores (eg, Charles Wesley's "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" set to a tune by Felix Mendelssohn).  These were clearly “adult-centered” in their language and poetics, yet chosen in high numbers by children's-hymn-book editors for children’s edification.  By the end of the century, however, carols were finally being written for children (like "Away in the Manger)" and becoming more “child-centered” in their language and focus as part of the late-century Cult-of-the-Child.  See more in my article below.

The carols chosen and recorded here fall in both categories: many traditional and Victorian carols written for the general public which children still love to sing (eg, "Silent Night") but also those written specifically for them (eg, "O Little Town of Bethlehem"). The children's carolers from Richmond, Indiana, enjoyed singing all of them, especially (surprisingly) the older ones like "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman"!  They spread "Christmas cheer" through a variety of area concerts and the recording of them for this website, and I thank them! See more about the choir below.


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.

Alisa Clapp-Itnyre, director
Jill Schweitzer, pianist
Bennie Young, recording engineer from the Reid Center
Funded by a grant from the Kiwanis Club of Richmond
Supported by RCT's Stage One, Ryan Shaw, Director

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

This page has paths:

Contents of this path:

This page references: