The Carols of Christmas: A Celebration of the Surprising Stories Behind Your Favorite Holiday Songs - Andrew Gant

From Oxford professor and renowned British composer, a joyous account of the history behind our favorite carols. Everyone loves a carol in the end, even Ebenezer Scrooge. They have the power to summon up a special kind of mid-winter mood, like the aroma of gingerbread or the twinkle of lights on a tree. It's a kind of magic. But how did they get that magic? Andrew Gant choirmaster, church musician, university professor, and writer tells the story of some twenty carols, each accompanied by lyrics and music, unraveling a captivating, and often surprising, tale of great musicians and thinkers, saints and pagans, shepherd boys and choirboys.




Being a December baby and having Christmas as my favorite holiday, I was pretty excited to dive into this and see what stories Gant had to tell! I tend to love these kind of little known background stories. Each chapter in this book covers the history behind one carol, for a total of 21 carols. 


Well, the intro started out interesting but quickly turned pretty dry, a dryness that continued throughout the entire text. And I say text because this thing ended up reading like a textbook. Not what the cover would lead you to believe, but yeah, Gant's background as a music professor definitely comes through in his writing. Though his style may not be for the average casual reader, there were some cool bits that stuck with me:


* "O Holy Night" -- turns out the original wording of this one was a little more fire & brimstone than how we sing it today! It was also the 1st song to be broadcast live over the radio. I was surprised to read of Gant's opinion that this song "doesn't work when sung by a choir" and should just be handled by solo artists instead. Really?! I've heard some gorgeous choir renditions myself!


* "I Wonder As I Wander" has roots in Appalachia! 


* "Jingle Bells" became the first song to be broadcast from space when astronaut Wally Schirra mentioned (during a holiday broadcast) seeing a UFO in a red suit and then busted out a little bit of the song on his harmonica. 



A few of the songs covered were a bit on the obscure side for the "your favorite holiday songs" bit mentioned in the title. Gant is a UK writer though, so maybe they're more well known in England.  But around here -- "Angels From Realms Of Glory" and "The Holly And The Ivy" -- yeah..  not so much in the rotation. But I was happy to see him cover "I Saw Three Ships" which IS one of my favorites, but not one of the more commonly played holiday tunes. 




FTC Disclaimer: & Nelson Books (TNZ) kindly provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.