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5 beloved Christmas carols: Listen and deck the halls

December 7, 2011 |  9:53 am

"A Charlie Brown Christmas"
In Wednesday's Los Angeles Times we look at some common words and ideas in Christmas carols and explore their meaning and history. Listen below for some of the carols that represent each of the themes we discovered:

Wassailing

Often rendered in modern times as "Here We Come A-Caroling," "Here We Come A-wassailing" is a faux-archaic carol created in the mid-19th century just as Christmas was becoming the nostalgia-draped festival we know it as today. Hear the King's Singers and the City of London Sinfonia do their best to take us back to the Middle Ages.

Church Bells

There are many seasonal songs that mention bells but most ("Silver Bells," "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day") are midcentury novelties meant for the crooning set. Handily, the easy-on-the-ears "Carol of the Bells" from the Ukraine is now popular in the United States. This arrangement performed by the London Symphony Orchestra is far less percussive than most choir versions.

Sleigh Bells

Written in 1857 by James Lord Pierpont, the quintessentially American carol "Jingle Bells" --  sung here by a swinging Ella Fitzgerald -- was actually meant for Thanksgiving.

 

Yule

"Deck the Halls," with a blazing Yule verse, is a mid-19th century American reimagining of a traditional Welsh carol dating from the 16th century. The carol is well-known and popular but not often recorded mostly because it's much more fun to sing than listen to. Here's a smooth Nat King Cole, giving it his best.

Holly and ivy

"The Sans Day Carol," also from the mid-19th century, tells the story of the holly's religious symbolism and is performed here by the Holman Climax Male Voice Choir from Cornwall, England. Even though ivy isn't mentioned, the carol covers the same territory as "The Holly and the Ivy" with the benefit of a much more interesting tune. The last verse is sung in Cornish, reportedly a language in which only 375 people are still fluent.

What's your favorite Christmas carol? Discuss in the comments section.

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-- Marcia Adair

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Photo: Charlie Brown and his crew sing for Christmas. Credit: Golden Books

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