Maria Augusta Trapp has documented history of carols in a clear and concise way. According to her, singing and caroling at Christmas is one of the oldest folk customs of the day and has been present since the time when Christianity and Christmas season were still at their budding stages. It is a worldwide custom and there has been lot of research on the subject and several books have been written about it. Originally, music compositions and songs at Christmas were in the form of chants and hymns. Caroling originally meant ‘circle dance’ and the words to accompany this festive dance were later added to the tradition.
Initially, the church looked down upon carols and carol singing as a pagan custom and they could not be included in the sacred services. However, in the countryside, many simple folk songs and Nativity carols were written and gaine popularity too. In 1223, Saint Francis of Assisi introduced carols into the formal worship of the church during a Christmas Midnight Mass in a cave in Greccio, in the province of Umbria. That night, the songs and music that accompanied this sacred and formal event were not hymns but carols. Ever since then, carols caught on with the masses and were at their prime in the Middle Ages, when they were almost always a part of the mystery plays.
There was a time, when wandering minstrels and waits or watchmen that guarded the old walled cities in the night used to pass their time by singing carols and also sang them to the people who used to pass them by. They would go from home to home, singing carols and entertaining people and may be get a treat in return. Later groups of musicians began singing carols and playing them for various events that were held during the Christmas season. Today, carol singing has becoming an important of this holiday season and a number of caroling events are organized throughout the world during the festive season, especially on Christmas Eve!