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Christmas Caroling in the Victorian Era: A Music Lesson

Enjoy today’s music lesson about Christmas Caroling in the Victorian Era.

We had so much fun with our What the Dickens? A Christmas Carol Teatime event yesterday!

The replay video is posted here ~ in the Music in Our Homeschool Plus membership site ~free for a limited time only.

Christmas Caroling in the Victorian Era: A Music Lesson

Disclosure: I get commissions for purchases made through affiliate links in this post.

Links referenced during the teatime:

  1. “The Holly and the Ivy” and “I Saw Three Ships” sheet music
  2. The “Christmas Caroling in the Victorian Era” Spotify playlist
  3. Christmas Carols Made Easy online course (if you’re catching this before 11/30/23, use coupon code THANKS2023 to save 30% on the lifetime access course).
  4. Music of Christmas online course (includes a mini-course on Lessons and Carols)
  5. Christmas Musicals Mini-Course for upper elementary – high school
  6. Christmas Printable Set for preschool and early elementary
  7. KinderBach Christmas Songs songbook for preschool and early elementary
  8. Christmas Lit Camp from Literary Adventures for Kids (Dachelle)
  9. A Very Merry Christmas Carol art course from Masterpiece Society (Alisha and Olivia)
  10. Awaken to Delight’s Christmastide Morning Time Session from Alisha


The 30% off sale continues through 11/30/23! Use coupon code THANKS2023


Christmas Caroling in the Victorian Era:

Use this as you go through the lesson below: Christmas Playlist

Victorian Era:

Why is it called the Victorian Era? It’s related to the dates of Queen Victoria’s reign: 1837-1901. This is the time period that Charles Dickens lived.
Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert was from Germany, and he brought the tradition of the Christmas tree to England. People in England, including Dickens’ family, loved the royal family, and what they did, everyone wanted to do.


Singing Christmas carols around a Christmas tree became a way to foster a sense of community and togetherness during the festive season. Many homes had a piano or organ and the tradition of singing Christmas carols at home became popular.



The tradition of wassailing has been practiced for centuries: people go door-to-door, singing and getting a drink from the wassail bowl in exchange for gifts, even if the gift is just their singing and the wishing good health to those they are singing to.
Wassail is a drink that is similar to spiced hot apple cider. Wassailing still exists, but has largely been displaced by carol singing. When I was a teenager, our church’s youth group would go Christmas caroling to different people’s homes. And, I know many still do this, especially to nursing homes.


There is even a Christmas Carol called  “Here We Come a-Wassailing.
It’s partly a new year’s song as well, as the refrain says this:


Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you
a Happy New Year


These are some of the other lyrics for Here We Come A-wassailing :


Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wand’ring
So fair to be seen.


Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year
And God send you a Happy New Year.


We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door;
But we are neighbours’ children,
Whom you have seen before.


We have got a little purse
Of stretching leather skin;
We want a little of your money
To line it well within.


Bring us out a table
And spread it with a cloth;
Bring us out a mouldy cheese,
And some of your Christmas loaf.


God bless the master of this house
Likewise the mistress too,
And all the little children
That round the table go.


Good master and good mistress,
While you’re sitting by the fire,
Pray think of us poor children
Who are wandering in the mire.


Listen to “Here We Come A Wassailing”


Singing Christmas Carols in order to raise money for charity:

Another practice that became even more popular during the Victorian Era was singing Christmas Carols in order to raise money for charity. It had begun in England in the 17th century. Town musicians, called “waits” were licensed to collect money in the streets in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The industrial revolution enabled the mass production of musical instruments and printing presses, which dramatically increased the availability of sheet music. This meant that more people had access to musical instruments and could learn, play, and perform Christmas carols in their homes.
The widespread availability of sheet music also allowed for greater dissemination of carols, as they could be printed and distributed to different communities. If you watch any version of “A Christmas Carol” you’ll probably see a group of singers standing on a street corner singing carols.
I have two songs with sheet music for you today, which were popularly sung during the Victorian era but are slightly less popular and well-known today. If you were able to print them out, go ahead and get your music for “The Holly and the Ivy” and “I Saw Three Ships” now.
Let’s learn a little bit about these and then sing them together!


“The Holly and the Ivy”

“The Holly and the Ivy” is a traditional British song–we don’t know who originally wrote it. That means there are many different versions of it. It can be traced back to the early 19th century, but the lyrics which connect holly with Christmas date back to medieval times.
See some tips for singing it as printed on the sheet music.
Play and sing “The Holly and the Ivy”


“I Saw Three Ships”

“I Saw Three Ships” is also a traditional carol from England, and we don’t know who originally wrote it. But, it was first published in 1833.
See some tips for singing it as printed on the sheet music.
The lyrics mention the ships sailing into Bethlehem, but the nearest body of water is the Dead Sea about 20 miles away. The reference to three ships is believed to be about the three ships that carried the relics of the Biblical magi to Cologne Cathedral in the 12th century. Or, another possible reference is to Wenceslaus II, King of Bohemia, who bore a coat of arms that was “Azure three galleys argent” (a galley is a ship). Or, I like this possible reference the best: the three ships are actually the camels used by the Magi, as camels are commonly referred to as “ships of the desert”.
Play and sing “I Saw Three Ships”


More beloved Christmas carols which were popular during the Victorian era.

  • 1. “Silent Night” was written in 1818: This timeless hymn was composed by Franz Xaver Gruber and Joseph Mohr in Austria. Father Mohr had been planning the special Christmas eve mass for his small church in a village in Austria when he discovered the organ was broken. He knew he couldn’t hold the service without music, so he prayed to ask God for inspiration. The Lord brought to his mind a poem that he had written two years prior which began “Stille Nacht, heilige nacht”. He put the poem in his pocket and ran to his friend Franz Gruber’s home, just hours before the service began. He asked Gruber if he could write music for the poem that could easily be learned and sung by the church’s choir, accompanied by a guitar. He did and it was first sung that night in the candlelight service. It has since become one of the most widely sung and loved Christmas carols.
Listen to “Silent Night”
  • 2. “O Holy Night” was written in 1847: Originally titled “Minuit, chrétiens” and composed by Adolphe Adam, this song is known for its powerful and expressive melody.
“O Holy Night” was written in 1847 in France when a parish priest in a small French town commissioned a local poet named Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure, to write a poem for the village’s Christmas Eve mass.
Cappeau decided the best way to write a poem about Christmas was to read through the story of Christ’s birth in the Bible. He read Luke 2 and wrote the words to “O Holy Night.”
Cappeau then asked his friend, Adolphe-Charles Adam, to compose the music to the poem, and it was sung for the first time that year on Christmas Eve in that small French village.
It was translated into English by John Sullivan Dwight.
Get a Bible and read Luke 2: 1-20.
Listen to “O Holy Night”


Carols Written During the Victorian Era

  • Jingle Bells (1857)
  • We Three Kings (1857)
  • Deck the Halls (1862)
  • It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
  • Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
  • God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
  • O Come, All Ye Faithful
  • Good King Wenceslas
  • Joy to the World
  • The First Noel

Older Christmas carols (but still sung in the Victorian era):

  • Wexford Carol
  • God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
  • Coventry Carol
  • The 12 Days of Christmas
  • O Christmas Tree
  • O Come, All Ye Faithful
  • Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Other Resources:

More organized church service including Christmas Carols: Lessons and Carols:
This service began on Christmas Eve 1880 in Truro Cathedral, Cornwall, England. I have a full online course about it including in the Music of Christmas course.

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