Christmas caroling has been a part of Emily Williams' holiday traditions -- which is fitting for the University of Colorado choir student.

In high school, she'd sing Christmas carols in her Wheat Ridge neighborhood. Now, as a college student, she has caroled on Pearl Street to spread her post-finals jubilance. And, Williams, who has been in two CU choirs, participates in an annual holiday festival that involves caroling and raises money for music scholarships.

"Singing is an important part of our culture," Williams said. "Especially around the holidays because we can connect with each other through music.

Caroling has a fa-la-la-la-long history, according to a CU musicologist.

While caroling is thought of as a holiday tradition, historically the carol started as a dance song and was associated with country life and general merry-making, said Thomas Riis, the director of the American Music Research Center in CU's College of Music.

Caroling -- the practice of going door-to-door to surprise people with song -- probably emerged in the 19th century. That's when images of caroling began to appear in literature, Riis said.

It began at a time when the English, Germans and Americans were thinking about reaffirming family values and local customs.


"I don't think it's a coincidence that the shortest periods of light and the long, dark cold period is a time when people want to celebrate," Riis said. "In the olden days, when life rotated around the harvest, you have this post-harvest period, there's not a great deal to do and it seems like a great time to light lights and light bonfires."

Many of the songs our culture now associates with the season, such as "Joy to the World" and "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," were written during this time period, according to Riis.

Holiday jingles like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Frosty the Snowman" that are more secular in nature were written for more commercial purposes.

"The music of the holiday season is a kind of deep well that many performers, many families and many individuals, of whatever faith and background, will continue to dip into in the years to come," Riis said.

Caroling has become a part of the holiday tradition in downtown Boulder.

David Adams, deputy director of Downtown Boulder, Inc., said the Pearl Street Mall becomes a popular stage for high school and college choirs and a cappella groups around the holidays.

"From our point of view, we love having the musicians playing holiday music down here," Adams said. "It adds to the shops and their decorated windows and completes the holiday feel."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or