BY SHARON VAN ARNEMAN
I love all things Christmas – the sights and sounds of the season; the tantalizing aroma of baked goodies mixed with the smell of freshly cut Christmas trees; the string lights and trimmings; the presents and decorations; the local festivities and special church services; the concerts and programs; the special foods and drinks; the unhurried visits with family and friends; the smiles and cheers and good wishes that come even from strangers; the hustling and bustling and last minute shopping; the jolly music – and the Christmas carols which have been our focus in these last couple articles.
Can you imagine a Christmas without those iconic songs that have grown with us over the years from childhood into adulthood?!! There’s simply nothing like singing those old favourites to get one into the spirit of the season. Not only are the melodies infectious, but the lyrics also tell the true Christmas story, reminding us of the real reason why we celebrate Christmas in the first place. And another thing I’ve discovered is that many of these old Christmas carols have origin stories that are rather interesting. Although, truth be told, it wasn’t always easy to separate truth from myth while doing my research online.
Last week, I shared with you the stories behind two of our most loved Christmas carols: “Silent Night, Holy Night” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”. Let’s look at four more today:
Joy to the World, the Lord is Come
“Joy to the World” was written by English hymnist Isaac Watts as a paraphrase of Psalm 98, entitled “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom”. He published the song in 1719, probably intending it to be sung for Easter. The current-day version of the song comes from American composer and music educator Lowell Mason’s “The National Psalmist” from 1848 entitled Antioch.
God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen
This old Christmas carol dates back to at least the 16th century. The word “rest” used to mean “keep” and “merry” is another way to say “joyful” – so the title of this carol really means something like “Gentlemen, may God keep you all joyful”. Still commonly sung today, this familiar tune seems to have been well known by the time Charles Dickens published his classic – A Christmas Carol (1843) – the singing of which so annoyed Ebenezer Scrooge that he “seized the ruler with such energy of action, that the singer fled in terror.”
O Come, All Ye Faithful
Originally written in Latin as Adeste Fidelis, “O Come, All Ye Faithful” first appeared in print thanks to the song’s most likely writer, an English music teacher named John Francis Wade (1711/2-1786), who had a successful career as a musical copyist known for his beautiful calligraphy. The familiar English translation “O Come, All Ye Faithful” was made by priest and author Frederick Oakeley (1802-1880), who served as Canon of the Roman Catholic diocese of Westminster.
Away in a Manger
Although this Christmas carol is American in origin, the original promoters falsely claimed it was written by Martin Luther (1483-1546), the German founder of Lutheranism, in the 1500s. However, according to Methodist hymnologist Fred Gealy (1894-1976), evidence suggests that “Away in a Manger” is wholly an American product. “The original two-stanza form probably originated among German Lutherans in Pennsylvania about 1885” – 1: Away in a manger / No crib for a bed / the little Lord Jesus / laid down His sweet head. 2: The stars in the sky / looked down where He lay / the little Lord Jesus / asleep on the hay.
To contact Sharon,Email: email@example.com