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Merry Christmas from the Macmillan Dictionary team

© PhotoDisc / Getty ImagesOne of the quintessential elements of a British Christmas is the singing of carols, an activity that has retained its popularity despite the general decline in religious observance. From the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols broadcast around the world from King’s College Cambridge to groups gathered in shopping centres, town squares and on village greens, the persistence of this tradition suggests that it fulfils some kind of fairly basic need, perhaps just the need to raise our voices against the dark and the cold.

The word carol goes back a long way, to Middle English in fact, where it arrived from the Old French carole. The custom of singing special songs about the Christmas story goes back many centuries, although carol singing moved into the churches only in the 19th century. Despite the large number of well-loved carols in existence, new ones are still being written; indeed BBC Radio 3 has recently held a competition to find one. You can hear the winning song by 24-year-old music teacher Jessie Reeves here.

The blog will be taking a short break over the festive season. Whether you will be carolling away with the best of them or muttering bah humbug into your mulled wine, or even ignoring the festivities entirely, we wish all our readers a happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

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