Jiggy Bells

Published 11:30 am Thursday, December 14, 2023

If there’s one thing that drives me crazy it’s the seemingly daily posts on social media and newspaper offerings that blurt out what I’m doing wrong.

“You’re loading your dishwasher wrong!”

“You’re showering wrong!” (read that yesterday)

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“You’re drinking champagne wrong!” (saw that this morning while showering and slurping from a crystal flute of the stuff, before running a load of dishes)

But the latest declaration, I must admit, is quite fascinating:

“You’ve been singing Christmas Carols wrong!”


The British organization, English Heritage, has, after quite a bit of research, determined that many carols have never actually had what they term as a ‘correct’ melody or tune. According to Dr. Michael Carter, senior historian at English Heritage, “Only a fraction of medieval Christmas carols retain their original score, and it’s entirely possible that in many instances these were never composed at all.”

Tunes that we know by heart, such as ‘While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks By Night’ mostly had their melodies attached by the 19th century and tend to be solemn by nature, however, as Carter points out, “Many tunes were simply made up on the spot….the first carols were actually written to be danced to and would have been a rather jolly affair.”

And if that doesn’t twist your trifle, wait till you hear that church congregations traditionally not only danced along to carols outside a church but also recited them in pubs and outside the front doors of residents. In fact, carols weren’t even sung inside churches until the mid-19th century—and definitely not until the 12 days of Christmas, beginning on Christmas Day.

That’s right: “You’ve been singing your carols at the wrong time!!”

Turns out that Advent had its own carols to be sung first.

Personally, I love that English Heritage is illuminating the public to the bygone history of festive lore. Life was a hard slog in centuries past with no central heat, readily available hot water or Amazon Prime. It’s easy to see how the long awaited festivities of December would include pulling out all the stops for weeks of celebration.

Just make sure you’re not eating your figgy pudding wrong!