The Tradition of Christmas Caroling and Why It Matters

Posted by Naomi Vacaro on

Spreading Joy One Door at a Time

By Grace McCready

A Pew Research Center study that was published in 2013 reveals that nearly 80% of Americans put up Christmas trees and 65% of Americans send Christmas cards—yet only 16% of Americans go Christmas caroling. Honestly, that number has probably decreased in the past 10 years, especially due to COVID-19 and a variety of other factors. But with so many Bible verses about singing and praising God, it’s interesting that the tradition of Christmas caroling feels like it’s dying.

I vaguely remember going Christmas caroling when I was younger. A small group of people from my church gathered together to sing Christmas carols at several homes, and then we returned to our church to eat cookies afterward. It was a fun experience, but I don’t think that I did it more than once. And I honestly can’t remember a time that Christmas carolers have ever visited my home.

The connection that I normally make to Christmas caroling is a comedy from the early 2000s called Christmas with the Kranks because it includes several scenes with a group of slightly obnoxious carolers. But of course, most actual Christmas carolers are probably quite friendly and cheerful—not obnoxious!  

Have you ever gone Christmas caroling? What did you like or dislike about it? Did you go with your family, friends, or people from your church? What carols did you choose? How did people respond when you arrived at their homes to sing?

Whether you’re a seasoned Christmas caroler or you’ve never done it, I hope that you’ll consider going Christmas caroling this year, especially as you discover its historical and biblical significance.

Historical Significance

According to Yesterday’s America, Christmas caroling—in its original form—wasn’t connected to Christmas or caroling. Rather, it was called “wassailing” and entailed groups of well-wishers going to various homes to spread cheer during chilly months of the year.

The significant connection between wassailing and singing songs about Christmas wasn’t made until Saint Francis of Assisi started to incorporate the same kinds of cheerful sayings—but also cheerful songs—into church Christmas services. He believed in the importance of embracing music during the Christmas season, and people who heard the songs at church took them home to sing with their families.  

These songs were passed down orally from generation to generation. Several hundred years after Saint Francis of Assisi died, the songs were finally written down and then published. Today, there are countless Christmas carols. You’ve likely sung some of them in church, such as “Away in a Manger,” “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” or “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

Biblical Significance

While the history of Christmas caroling is certainly important, it’s more important to consider the biblical basis for Christmas caroling. Does Scripture encourage it? How does singing relate to Christmas?

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. (Luke 2:8-17 NLT)

The shepherds’ initial response to the angel who appeared before them was fear, but their attitude changed as the sky filled with “a vast host of others” who were “praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased’” (vv. 13-14). The fear of the shepherds turned into joyful intrigue! They wanted to see the One whose glory and peace were proclaimed by the angels—and they did see Him! They were so amazed by Him that they told everyone about their experience.

I believe that that should be our motivation for going Christmas caroling—to proclaim the glory of Christ and to share His peace with others, especially those who are hesitant or afraid to follow Him. As you declare the truths of Christmas—through songs—you never know who will become eager to learn more about the Savior whose name you’re praising.

A Christmas Caroling Challenge  

Wholehearted friends, I realize that you might not have the opportunity to go Christmas caroling this year. And that’s okay! It’s not a biblical commandment. Rather, it’s an opportunity to praise Christ’s holy name.

If your church is having a Christmas caroling event, I encourage you to participate. But if your church isn’t having a Christmas caroling event, consider organizing one. Pick a neighborhood to visit—perhaps even your own!—and gather a group of people to carol with, such as family members, friends, or people from your church. You can make the activity extra special by serving hot chocolate and Christmas cookies at your home afterward.

Though Christmas caroling might feel like a dying tradition, it doesn’t have to die. It’s a wonderful practice rooted in spreading joy to the world—one door at a time. And you can have a significant role in spreading that Christmas joy.

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