The international service of Czech Radio 
12-8-2022, 14:12 UTC
Czech Christmas

Carols and Carolling

Carolling is an old Czech custom, where carollers go from house to house in a group, singing songs and collecting presents in each house. The main period of carolling runs from Christmas Eve to the Day of the Three Kings, thus from December 24 to January 6. Most often, people went carolling on Christmas Eve, St. Stephen's Day (December 26), and on New Year's. Another period of carolling was during the Easter holidays. Both of these carolling periods reflect the original message of carolling: to give regards to each home at the beginning of a new year - on the calender and in the fields.

Through their carols the people wished for prosperity in the future, and this wish for success in agriculture and in their personal life (love and health) had a deeper meaning than the later New Year's good wishes. For this reason, carollers were warmly welcomed into homes and their carols were of good tidings and delivered with a merry feeling. Carollers would often go dressed in costumes and carolling would take on a racier nature.

The medieval Church frowned on carollers for excessive licence, and was also against the disguising of men and women together and also, their masquerading as animals. Consequently, the Church ended up forbidding people's carolling and began introducing priests to the carolling trips. Through this the Church hoped to replace the old carolling, and so in the 14th century popular carolling was replaced by Church Christmas songs about the birth of Christ, first in Latin, later in the national tongues.

The best known of the czech carols today are Narodil se Kristus Pan - Christ the Lord was Born (Download or Streaming) from the 15th century, Nesem Vam Noviny - Bringing Good News to You (Download or Streaming) from the end of the 19th century or Ticha Noc - Silent Night. Though Austrian by origin, this last song was soon adopted here.

In 18th and 19the century became very popular pastorales (Download or Streaming), composed for example by Edmund Pascha Co je to dnesni den za znameni - What does that Sign mean (Download or Streaming) or Cosi noveho, neslychaneho - A new thing, unheard of (Download or Streaming), as well as the pastoral masses, especially in Czech Republic very known Czech Christmas Mass (Download or Streaming), by Czech organist and composer Jan Jakub Ryba. The Czech Christmas Mass was composed in 1796. Before that, Ryba had composed pastoral masses with not only Latin texts, but with Czech text inserted as well. In the case of the Christmas mass, he replaced the Latin lyrics with his own version of the legend of Christ's birth in Bethlehem following the pattern of folk Christmas plays.

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