Christmas carols and their lyrics have a rich and colorful history. For centuries, people have gathered together in villages, town squares, sheds and barns to celebrate the birth of Jesus by singing songs. Many attribute what is arguably the first Christmas hymn, Veni redemptor gentium ('O come, Redeemer of the Earth'), to St. Ambrose who lived in the fourth century.
However, it was only in the 13th century with the encouragement of St. Francis of Assisi, that a strong tradition of singing Christmas carols in native languages developed. It took another 600 years for carols to be sung in church during Christmas celebrations.
What we know as Christmas carols today are songs of merriment that were traditionally sung during Christmas as well as Yuletide, the winter festival. Many Christmas carols (Away in a Manger, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Joy to the World) tell the story of the birth of baby Jesus, expressing the hope and joy of a people who waited centuries for a promise to be fulfilled and their Messiah to come.
Many others are about Christmas traditions of decorating with holly and ivy (The Holly and the Ivy), ringing church bells to announce the beginning and end of Christmas service (Ding Dong Merrily on High), exchanging gifts (12 Days of Christmas), and traditional foods and drinks that were given to carolers (We Wish You a Merry Christmas). Regardless of whether the songs originated in Christian or pagan settings, singing carols has became a beloved Christmas Eve tradition in church with Edward White Benson, then Bishop of Truro, Cornwall, holding the first Nine lessons and carols service in 1880.
HuffPost Religion has compiled 15 of the most well-known and popular Christmas carols of all time, sung both by church choirs and pop stars. Click through the slideshow to listen to the carols. Lyrics of the Christmas carols are provided so you can sing along. Hope you enjoy!