You Won't Believe That These Are The Oldest Christmas Songs

Among the classic holiday jingles, these are the two that have been around for centuries.

Vintage Boy and Girl Singing Christmas Carols
Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts / ClassicStock / Getty Images

Every Christmas, we celebrate by decking the halls, decorating a gingerbread house, playing in the snow, drinking a cup of hot cocoa, and singing a Christmas carol (or two).

Step inside a shopping mall, church, or occasionally your front doorstep during the holiday season and hear the joyous sounds of Christmas music permeating the air. You're bound to listen to the joyful sounds generating cheerful, festive feelings wherever you are. While you may know songs such as "Silent Night," "Joy to the World," "Away in a Manger," and "Do You Hear What I Hear?" by heart, what you probably don't know is that these classics aren't the oldest Christmas carols. Here's a history of the oldest Christmas carols.

History of Christmas Carols

Most of the Christmas songs we've come to enjoy from traveling carolers are less than 200 years old. Not only that, but the earliest songs celebrating the season weren't Christmas carols at all—they were hymns. To usher in the arrival of the Winter Solstice, people danced around stone circles and recited pre-Christian or pagan songs, which evolved into Christian songs about the birth of Jesus—we celebrate Christmas around the same time as Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, usually December 22.

Reportedly, one of the first known Christmas hymns is "Jesus Refulsit Omnium" ("Jesus, Light of All the Nations"), written by St. Hilary of Poitier in the fourth century. The second is "Corde natus ex Parentis" ("Of the Father's Love Begotten") which was composed by Roman Christian poet Prudentius, also in the fourth century.

Although more Christmas-themed music was written and produced in the fourth century, these songs weren't observed during religious services until much later in the 12th century. In 1816, 'Silent Night,' one of the most well-known Christmas carols, was written as a poem by a young priest Joseph Mohr.

The Tradition of "Caroling"

The Christmas carol evolution continued as bands of local leaders started singing on Christmas Eve and were referred to as 'Waits.' They received this name because singing on Christmas Eve, known as 'watchnight' or 'waitnight,' similar to the Christain teaching that angels appeared to shepherds as they watched their sheep, announcing the birth of Jesus. This group performed in public spaces during the 19th century, becoming some of the first "carolers." They would eventually go door-to-door, singing and acting in a way much closer to the current caroling tradition.

WATCH: Listen to "Corde natus ex Parentis" below:

So as you're playing music around the house to get in the holiday spirit this season, remember that there were two timeless tunes sung long before "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing" or "The First Noel."

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