Here we present some of the stories behind our five favorite Christmas carols. You can know more about the history of Christmas Carols by clicking here.
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Secrets about the History of Christmas Carols
Many of us have heard these Christmas carols played in churches, malls, schools, and nativity plays and most of us know it by heart. But do you know the fascinating stories behind these best-known Christmas carols? Let us now explore these stories and learn more about the efforts that were taken to create these awesome Christmas Carols.
Silent Night Holy Night (Christmas Carols)
Do you know that this beloved carol written by a young Catholic priest, Joseph Mohr, was first performed in its original German version on Christmas Eve, 1818, at St Nicholas Church, Oberndorf bei Salzburg in Austria? An unsubstantiated tale tells that a mouse chewed a hole in the leather of the organ bellow, leaving the church without music at Christmas. So, the priest approached a schoolmaster, Franz Xavez Gruber, in the nearby town of Arnsdorf to set his six-stanza poem to music so that it could be sung with just guitar accompaniment. Gruber and Mohr introduced their carol at Mohr’s parish in which charmingly Mohr sang and Gruber accompanied on guitar.
Whatever the real story is, the carol became extremely popular in the 19th century and became timeless. Joseph Mohr wrote the poem entitled “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!,” in 1816. The Episcopal priest John Freeman Young translated the carol “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!” into English almost 50 years later.
Hark the Herald Angels Sing (Christmas Carols)
This favorite Christmas hymn was written in 1739 by Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley, who was the founder of Methodism. Wesley was an English Methodist leader and writer who wrote more than 6,000 hymns. His main aim was to write songs that would teach the poor and illiterate sound doctrine. Charles Wesley was the chief songwriter of the Methodist movement.
Charles Wesley wrote the “Hark” poem when he was inspired by the sounds of church bells. He wanted the poem to be read on Christmas Day. The poem first appeared in 1739 in the book “Hymns and Sacred Poems” with the opening line of “Hark, how the welkin (heaven) rings.” George Whitefield, an Anglican preacher, later changed the line to “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” and penned the phrase “newborn King.” Felix Mendelssohn’s Gutenberg tune was attached to this sacred poem by William Cummings in the 1850s.
This famed carol is loaded with rich theology. The opening lines establish a celestial connection between the heavenly chorus and humanity’s hope for peace on earth. The first stanza proclaims the good news of our savior’s birth. God sent His only son, as the redeemer, so that He would reconcile the sinner back to Himself. Therefore, every nation should rise and worship Christ the King, who is born in Bethlehem. The next stanza speaks about the supernaturality of Christ’s coming. The final stanza tells of the accomplishment of Christ and the power that He possesses. This Gospel-saturated anthem points people to the real savior of this world.
Joy to the World (Christmas Carols)
Did you know that the popular hymn “Joy to the World” was not written as a Christmas carol? The poem was written by Isaac Watts, an English preacher-poet in 1979 inspired by the sacred words in Psalm 98. It first appeared in his collection of hymns and spiritual songs, “The Psalms of David.” It celebrates the triumphant return of Christ and not the birth of Christ, like most carols.
So why do people sing this song during Christmas though it is a hymn about Christ’s second coming? This song is all about how Christ fulfilled everything He came to do in the first place. In this wonderful season, we not only look at the grace accomplished in the past but also look forward to the grace that was accomplished for our future. These words proclaim the ultimate joy to be revealed. So, that is the reason we can sing ”Joy to the World” at Christmas.
It is said that when Isaac was a teen, he was very unhappy with the psalms singing in the church. He often complained about how there was a lack of joy and emotion among the congregants when they sang psalms or sections of Scripture put to music. One day, his father grew weary of his complaining and asked him to write songs that would be better to sing. So, Isaac took his father’s challenge head-on and wrote a new hymn for each Sunday for the next two years.
Watts was on a lifelong pursuit to write poems that glorified Christ and reminded the faithful of their hope in His saving work on the cross. Twenty years later, when he read Psalm 98, he was inspired and wrote the poem as a celebration of Jesus’ role as King of both the church and the whole world.
He is also known for writing amazing hymns as “Behold the Glories of the Lamb” and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”
Lowell Mason, a Boston music teacher and a leading Presbyterian hymn composer in the United States, composed a riveting melody to the hymn in 1836 and published “Joy to the World” during the Christmas season. So, this song became associated with Christmas celebrating the birth of Jesus.
O Little Town of Bethlehem (Christmas Carols)
This most popular Christmas carol tells the story of the birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. It was written by a pilgrim’s inspiring Christmas Eve experience in the Holy Land. Phillips Brooks, an Episcopal priest, who publicly advocated against slavery during the Civil War, wrote this beloved hymn for the Sunday school children at his Philadelphia parish, Holy Trinity Church in 1868.
In 1865, Brooks traveled on horseback between Jerusalem and Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. He participated in the Church of the Nativity’s (Constantine’s ancient basilica (326 A.D.) built over the traditional site of the Nativity, a cave.) Christmas Eve celebration. This experience left a profound impression on him and when he returned home, he wrote a hymn that captured the imagination of everyone. He asked his church organist, Lewis Redner if he would compose the music for the poem and teach the children.
Redner struggled to compose a melody. However, miraculously on the night before the program, he awakened when a beautiful tune ran through his mind. He wrote the notes down and taught the song to the children at church. The song was first performed by the children’s choir on December 27, 1868.
The carol is very popular on both sides of the Atlantic but to different tunes. In North America, the hymn is generally sung to its original tune, ST. LOUIS by Louis H. Redner. While in the United Kingdom and Ireland to “Forest Green”. The hymn was paired with the British folk tune FOREST GREEN by Ralph Vaughan Williams and first published in the 1906 English Hymnal.
The carol is wonderfully reassuring and has become a favorite for many people as they celebrate the Christmas season.
Jingle Bells (Christmas Carols)
“Jingle Bells” one of the most recognizable and favorite holiday melodies was originally titled “The One Horse Open Sleigh.” It was written by James Lord Pierpont an American composer and songwriter, who also set the tune to the lyrics. He was the son of a fiercely abolitionist Unitarian minister, Reverend John Pierpont. The song was first performed at a Thanksgiving program at a church in Savannah, Georgia where Pierpont was an organist. There is no mention of Christmas in the song, or any festival, for that matter.
The song was first performed on 15 September 1857 at Ordway Hall in Washington Street in Boston by the minstrel performer Johnny Pell. It was then people started associating the song with Christmas.
Two cities claim to be the birthplace of the song, Medford in Massachusetts and Savannah in Georgia. A plaque at 19 High Street, the site of the former Simpson Tavern, Medford, Massachusetts, suggests that Pierpont wrote the song in 1850 while sitting in a tavern. In Savannah, Georgia, there is a plague claiming that Pierpont wrote the song in late 1857 before leading the first “Jingle Bells” sing-along in a Unitarian church where he was music director at the time.
On December 16, 1965, two Astronauts, Wally Schirra and Thomas Stafford, aboard Gemini 6 gave a troubling report to Mission Control that they have seen an unidentified flying object (UFO) that looks like a satellite moving from north to south in a polar orbit and that the pilot was “wearing a red suit.”
This tense news was broken by the sound of “Jingle bells” with Schirra playing a tiny harmonica (Hohner’s Little Lady model) accompanied by Tom Stafford who shook a handful of small sleigh bells he had brought along for the space voyage.
This made “Jingle Bells” the first song to be heard from space. The harmonica and bells used for the broadcast are now in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and considered the first musical instruments played in space.
These Christmas carols will live on for generations to come. These Christmas carols speak in a unique way to the festival times and seasons. These Christmas carols are deeply embedded into our minds and humming them makes us happy and cheerful.