The Making of Your Favourite Christmas Carols

Keep The Faith explores the origins of some of the world’s most well-loved Christmas carols

O Come, All Ye Faithful
This song is a Christmas favourite and was originally titled Adeste Fideles. Its roots can be traced back to the 18th century. Although there is debate about the songwriter, O Come, All Ye Faithful is commonly attributed to John Francis Wade, an English hymnist and Roman Catholic. The carol was originally written in Latin, and it’s estimated it was written around 1743 to promote the Catholic faith during a time of religious turmoil in England.

The carol rose in popularity when it was translated into English by Frederick Oakeley in the mid 19th century. Its stirring lyrics invite believers to come and adore the newborn Christ and emphasises the universal message of the Nativity.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
This gospel classic was written by Charles Wesley – one of the founders of Methodism – and the music was composed by German composer Felix Mendelssohn. Wesley wrote the lyrics in 1739 as a part of a collection of hymns that were titled Hymn for Christmas-Day. The original opening line of the carol was ‘Hark, how all the welkin rings / Glory to the King of kings’.

The music associated with this carol was not originally composed for Wesley’s lyrics. It wasn’t until the mid 19th century that the words were paired with Mendelssohn’s music, arranged by William H. Cummings.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing celebrates the birth of Jesus and the song still brings joy to the world.

Silent Night
Silent Night is a Christmas carol with Austrian origins (where it is known as Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht).  It was written by Joseph Mohr, a young Catholic priest, and set to music by Franz Xaver Gruber, a schoolteacher based in the Austrian village of Oberndorf.  On Christmas Eve, 1818, Mohr approached Gruber with the lyrics; he needed a simple, guitar-accompanied tune, as the church’s organ was in need of repair.

Silent Night was first performed at St. Nicholas’ Church in Oberndorf, and its soothing melody and poignant lyrics struck a chord with the congregation. Over time, it spread across Europe and beyond.

Silent Night remains a well-loved song and is widely sung in various languages around the world.

O Holy Night

This Christmas carol originated in France during the mid 19th century. It was written by poet Placide Cappeau in 1847[JR1] , after he was asked to write a Christmas poem. He was inspired by the gospel of Luke and the poem was originally called Minuit, Chrétiens.

Cappeau’s poem later became the lyrics for O Holy Night, and composer Adolphe Adam set the poem to music. O Holy Night was first performed in Roquemaure, France, during a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve of that year.

The carol quickly gained popularity, not only in France but also in other parts of the world. Its emotive and inspiring message of the birth of the Saviour has resonated with people for generations.

Away in a Manger
This Christmas carol, often a favourite of children, has its roots in the United States, though the lyrics to the song are often attributed to an anonymous author, and its exact origins are unclear.

It is believed that the lyrics first appeared in the late 19th century in a Lutheran Sunday School book. Over the years, variations of the lyrics and melodies have emerged, leading to different versions of the carol. The most well-known version of Away in a Manger is the one that starts with ‘Away in a manger, no crib for His bed’.

Despite its somewhat uncertain origins, Away in a Manger has captured the essence of the Nativity and continues to be a beloved part of the holiday season.

Joy to the World 
This much-loved Christmas carol was written by famous English hymn writer Isaac Watts in the early 18th century. It was originally titled The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom, and was published in 1719 as part of Watts collection of hymns based on the Psalms.

The music associated with Joy to the World was not originally composed for Watts’ lyrics. Instead, it is believed to have been adapted from Handel’s Messiah by Lowell Mason, an American hymn writer and composer, in the mid 19th century. Mason created this iconic melody to accompany Watts’ lyrics, transforming it into the joyful Christmas anthem we know today.


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