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According to one of the only observational research studies of Christmas caroling, Christmas observance and caroling traditions vary considerably between nations in the 21st century, while the actual sources and meanings of even high-profile songs are commonly misattributed, and the motivations for carol singing can in some settings be as much associated with family tradition and national cultural heritage as with religious beliefs.
The tradition of singing Christmas carols in return for alms or charity began in England in the seventeenth century after the Restoration.
For similar terms, see Christmas Album (disambiguation).
For the Mel Tormé composition, see The Christmas Song.
Town musicians or 'waits' were licensed to collect money in the streets in the weeks preceding Christmas, the custom spread throughout the population by the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries up to the present day.
Also from the seventeenth century, there was the English custom, predominantly involving women, of taking a wassail bowl to their neighbours to solicit gifts, accompanied by carols.
The earliest examples are hymnographic works (chants and litanies) intended for liturgical use in observance of both the Feast of the Nativity and Theophany, many of which are still in use by the Eastern Orthodox Church.
The following is a brief and non-exhaustive list of notable compositions: Messiah has become inextricably linked with the Christmas season, especially in England.
Famously, Cromwell's interregnum prohibited all celebrations of the Christmas holiday.
This attempt to ban the public celebration of Christmas can also be seen in the early history of Father Christmas.
Songs which are traditional, even some without a specific religious context, are often called Christmas carols.
Each of these has a rich history, some dating back many centuries.