So, what Christmas songs were they singing in the winter of 1862?
Not "Away in a Manger". The words to that carol were published in Philadelphia, 1885. The melodies were older. One version was lifted from Waltz #4, Op. 325 by Johann Strauss Jr., composed 19 years earlier. Another was based on the old English tune "Sweet Afton." (I have a personal story about that tune. It'll be in the comments.)
Many carols borrowed their music from older pieces. "What Child is This" uses the melody from "Greensleeves". "Deck the Halls" is based on a Welsh song - only the Fa la la la la's remained the same. "Joy to the World" is believed to have been adapted from Handel. The music we sing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" to, was originally composed to commemorate the anniversary of the Guggenheim Press in 1840. The carol's lyrics are older, but the original music wasn't nearly as catchy.
"We Three Kings" and "One Horse Open Sleigh" (better known as "Jingle Bells") were composed in 1857. I'm safe with those ones. The English lyrics to "Deck the Halls" were published in 1862, as was the carol "Angels We Have Heard on High." If my story took place on the eastern seaboard, I wouldn't have any qualms about including them. Sheet music was as hot in the 1860's as iTunes are now. However, I'm not sure when the new music, hot off the press, would make it to Tennessee - especially with a war on.
One thing I don't have to worry about is whether or not my family celebrates Christmas. There might be some Calvinists or other Puritanical types among the Yankees who wouldn't observe the holiday, but most of the southern states had already made Christmas an statutory holiday.
My heroine's parents are German immigrants. She would have grown up decorating a tree and putting presents under it. "O Tannenbaum" will definitely be on the play list, as will "Silent Night", which her parents would have known as "Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht".
Composed in Austria in 1818, by 1859, Silent Night had been translated into English. Perhaps the most widely known Christmas carol, it has been translated into 140 languages. This is one of the reasons it was sung during the Christmas Truce of 1914. It was one carol that the German, French and English soldiers all knew.
"The First Nowell", "Joy to the World", "O Come All Ye Faithful" and even "The Twelve Days of Christmas" all predate the nineteenth century and would have been well known. My favorite carol is also one of the oldest. Dating back to the fifteenth century, and still being sung today, I conclude with...
Alison Bruce is the author of UNDER A TEXAS STAR and DEADLY LEGACY. She lives in Guelph, Ontario with her two children and a pet rat. When she isn't writing fiction, she's usually writing something else.