Word of the Day


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter

This post from just 2 years ago has a positively nostalgic feel. With a bit of luck and the help of the vaccines, carol singing will be back to something like normal next year.


 a traditional song sung at Christmas

Origin and usage

Carol came into Middle English from the Old French words ‘carole’ and ‘caroler’. Their ultimate origin is unknown, although the Old French words refer to dancing in a ring, possibly accompanied by singing. Both noun and verb were first used in English at the very start of the 14th century.


For many people carols and carol singing are an indispensable part of Christmas. The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is beamed around the world from King’s College Cambridge, and so the word carol is often associated with glorious church architecture, religious language, beautiful music and angelic choristers in white surplices. The origins of the carol are a lot less refined than the current image, however. Carols were sung communally at all times of the year, and in homes or even pubs rather than in churches. At Christmas time, groups of singers would go from house to house, singing carols and receiving food, drink and gifts in return.  Although carols were sung in church in continental Europe from the 16th century on, it was only in the latter half of the 19th century that they became a popular part of the church’s celebration of Christmas in Britain. The first service of nine religious readings accompanied by carols took place on Christmas Eve in Truro in Cornwall in 1880.


“Christmas carols always brought tears to my eyes.”
(Ethel Merman)

“A Christmas Carol‘ has been described as the most perfect of Dickens’s works.”
(Claire Tomalin)

Related words

chorale, ditty, folk song, hymn

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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