Carols Simply Bring Us Back to Celebrating Jesus’ Birth
Popular Christmas carol “I Saw Three Ships” was a composition in England, of unknown exact time, of unknown author and of unknown number of versions. Certainly, this is like most folk carols, very old and passed on through many generations. Unlike hymns, which could be traced by their authors and composers, carols seem to have just mushroomed and have been sung by many groups of people possibly for centuries. There’s one story involving the skulls of the three Magi. It was said the relics were brought from Bethlehem to Byzantium, to Milan in Italy, and finally to Cologne (1162) in three ships by command of Empress Helena. If this indeed was the origin, then the lines saying the ships sailing to Bethlehem carried Jesus and the Lady (Mary) do not match the supposed origin story of the carol. But no one fact-checked the backstory any further, the carol just continued being played. Earliest print of it was of the 17th century.
The feel-good English carol is tempo Allegro on the piano, like a very upbeat traditional English folk song. It could be enriched harmonically by not just singing the melody but applying other voices according to the chords as well as fiddles and penny whistles so that the result is joyful communal singing with a Celtic groove to it. It has a repetition rate of the chorus lines that have made it so popular and memorable for centuries.
St. Francis of Assisi staged Nativity Dramas in 1223 in which carols were sung and danced to in between the scenes. He was the father of Christmas carols and in spite of the dancing, the church through the years found ways to spiritualize the classic Christmas carols. The playing of “I Saw Three Ships” simply ensures that Christmas, the birth of Christ is celebrated with joy and generally, people wish to share joy during the Christmas Season.