Christmas carol: a song or hymn with the theme of Christmas, traditionally sung during the surrounding Christmas holiday season.
Carols were first sung in Europe thousands of years ago, but these were not Christmas carols as we know them
These were pagan songs sung at winter solstice celebrations, as people danced around stone circles. The word carol comes from the old French word 'carole', which meant a popular circle dance accompanied by singing.
Carols used to be written and sung during all four of the seasons. There used to be May carols and harvest carols, but it is only the tradition of singing them at Christmas which has really survived.
The ancient Roman pagan festival of Saturnalia, which honoured the agricultural god Saturn, took placed near the winter solstice. Due to when this holiday occurred, Saturnalia celebrations are said to be the source of many of the traditions we now associate with Christmas, such as wreaths, candles, feasting and gift-giving.
It was only later that carols began to be sung in church and to be specifically associated with Christmas.