Christmas Songs


From 'Deck the Halls' to 'Jingle Bells,' Christmas songs are an essential part of the holiday season.
From 'Deck the Halls' to 'Jingle Bells,' Christmas songs are an essential part of the holiday season.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Close your eyes and listen for the bells. Imagine the snow falling softly in the cozy glow of evening. Expect the smell of evergreen. You've arrived at a place somewhere between your heart and soul: the world of Christmas songs.

If you've yet to discover the stories behind some of the Christmas standards you've been hearing -- and playing and singing -- your entire life, you're in for a treat. Some of the carols you will read about in this article are steeped in the mystery of medieval chants.

Others began as church sermons, prayers, or meditations. From famed classical composers to pop lyricists, from Broadway theater producers to simple pastors, the lyricists and composers included here are filled with the results of faith and talent -- rich musical gifts that have transcended centuries.

To help guide you though your own Christmas season, we've selected a holiday menu of favorites -- songs you never grow weary of hearing. Learn a bit about how these songs came to reach our ears as you peruse the included histories. We've also included lyrics to each of these Christmas songs and -- for you musicians out there -- sheet music that can be downloaded.

All told, we cover 35 Christmas songs in this article, including:

  • "Deck the Halls" "Deck the Halls" -- one of the all-time Christmas favorites -- is a "melting pot" song. Its melody has traditional Welsh roots, but its lyrics came from the United States in the nineteenth century. You can't listen to this buoyant song without getting into the Christmas spirit. Learn about its history and reacquaint yourself with the lyrics.
  • "Good King Wenceslas" "Good King Wenceslas" is a tribute to a beloved ruler whose kindness has never been forgotten. King Wenceslas (who was actually the Duke of Bohemia) was silenced by a jealous brother in 929, but centuries later, his memory surfaced as the subject of this children's song written by John Mason Neale.
  • "Christmas is Coming" "Christmas is Coming" is a classic Christmas round. The author of the lyrics is unknown, but the music was composed by Edith Nesbitt in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.
  • "The Twelve Days of Christmas" "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was written sometime during the sixteenth century to honor the Christmas custom of giving 12 gifts to loved ones, one every day from Christmas to Epiphany. Whether singing of golden rings or fat geese, those unable to buy such luxuries could at least hold these lyrics as promises of heartfelt gifts to come during this glittering season of giving.
  • "Ave Maria" Few sacred hymns are as universally known as "Ave Maria." Originally a Roman Catholic prayer, "Ave Maria" was actually derived from biblical scripture: Luke 1:28. Franz Schubert orchestrated this version of the hymn in 1825. Many people consider "Ave Maria" to be the most sacred of all hymns.
  • "Here We Come A-Wassailing" Also known as "Here We Come A-Caroling" and "The Wassail Song," this jolly English ditty is steeped in tradition. Imagine a British cobblestone street, snow soft in the streetlight's glow. Despite constant hardship, beggars and orphans would dance and sing in the streets at Christmas, hoping to receive a bowl of wassail, which combines ale, wine, and spices to warm the heart as well as the soul.
  • "Jingle Bells" Some songs are known for their appeal to adults; others for their popularity with children. "Jingle Bells" enchants both audiences, but it might surprise you to know that the original music, composed by Boston Sunday school teacher James Pierpont, was conceived as a Thanksgiving song in 1857.
  • "O Christmas Tree" Folktales describing how evergreen trees came to symbolize Christmas can be found in nearly every culture. Centuries-old lore describes evergreen trees blooming in every forest on earth the night Jesus was born. These stories are the basis of the ageless German song that praises all trees at Yuletide: "O Tannenbaum," or "O Christmas Tree."
  • "The Holly and the Ivy" "The Holly and the Ivy" likely originated as a print ad posted in England around 1700. The song was published in 1861 by Joshua Sylvester, who admitted to its commercial heritage. Though lavished with symbols predating Christianity, this song's lyrics don't completely explain the meaning behind the greenery in its title.
  • "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky completed his ballet "The Nutcracker" in 1893. First performed at St. Petersburg's Maryinsky Theater the following Christmas, "The Nutcracker" continues to thrill audiences -- particularly those eagerly awaiting the ballet's crown jewel: "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy." To read the story "The Nutcracker," click here.
  • "Up on the Housetop" When Clement Clarke Moore penned "A Visit From St. Nicholas" as Christmas entertainment for his children, he probably had no idea that his story would continue to be told for hundreds of years. The charming tale of Santa's annual visit has been chronicled for all time as "Up on the Housetop." If Moore hadn't revealed Santa's entry point and Benjamin Russell Hanby hadn't later set it to music, children everywhere might still wonder how all those Christmas presents are delivered!
  • "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas" This traditional American jingle sums up every child's Christmas dream -- finding out what treasured gifts Santa will be leaving under the tree this year. "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas" is a bouncy and fun-filled Christmas classic.
  • "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" got its lyrics from a poem by Edmund Hamilton Sears, a Unitarian minister. American poet Oliver Wendell Holmes described this hymn as "one of the finest and most beautiful ever written." Listen to it, and you'll realize that Holmes was right.
  • "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks" "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks" is especially beloved by those who appreciate a literal interpretation of the nativity story. This hymn closely replicates the Bible's description of events on the night of Jesus' birth.
  • "Angels We Have Heard on High" "Angels We Have Heard on High" began as a shepherd's exclamation ("Gloria in excelsis Deo!") shouted from hill to hill to celebrate Christmas. The version we sing today was first published in 1855.
  • "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" Composer Felix Mendelssohn wrote the music for "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" for a cantata dedicated to Johannes Gutenberg. The tune was later matched with words written by Charles Wesley, a Methodist poet.
  • "We Three Kings of Orient Are" "We Three Kings of Orient Are" was written in 1857 for an elaborate holiday pageant. It depicts the journeys of the three wise men who traveled from separate parts of the globe to pay homage at the crib of Jesus in Bethlehem.
  • "Angels from the Realms of Glory" "Angels from the Realms of Glory" is a reverential carol by James Montgomery and Henry Stuart. It celebrates the angels who first told shepherds in their fields of the Messiah's birth. For those who want to really get into the Christmas spirit, it's well worth a listen.
  • "Coventry Carol" It is speculated that "Coventry Carol" has its roots in melodies that women of Bethlehm would sing to their firstborn sons during King Herod's reign of terror, when he ordered the murder of all infant sons to ensure the death of newborn Jesus. As you can see from the subject matter, this Christmas song is known for its intensity.
  • "O Little Town of Bethlehem" Minister Phillips Brooks wrote "O Little Town of Bethlehem" after traveling to Bethlehem and finding himself deeply moved by the experience. It was premiered by his church's children's choir in 1868 and developed into a Christmas classic in the ensuing years.
  • "Silent Night" In 1818, a broken organ forced Father Joseph Mohr and organist Franz Gruber to pull together "Silent Night" for voices and guitars at the last minute. They barely finished in time for their Bavarian village's Christmas Eve celebrations. It's a good thing the song was completed -- "Silent Night" has enchanted generations of listeners. To read the inspirational story of how "Silent Night" came to be, click here.
  • "Away in a Manger" "Away in a Manger" is of unknown origins, although many people have been considered possible composers (including Martin Luther and James R. Murray). While the mystery surrounding "Away in a Manger" continues, one thing is certain: This lullaby continues to soften hearts during the holidays.
  • "Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella" "Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella" probably originated as a a lively court dance in fourteenth-century France. The song as we know it was first published in 1553 by a well-to-do nobleman. Read the lyrics, and you'll see that it's an interesting addition to our collection of Christmas songs.
  • "What Child Is This?" "What Child Is This?" shares its melody with that of the traditional English song "Greensleeves." Words from the Dix poem "The Manger Throne" were added to "Greensleeves" to form the Christmas carol we know today.
  • "Good Christian Men, Rejoice" "Good Christian Men, Rejoice" originated as "In Dulci Jubilo" in 1601 and has undergone many transformations since then. The version we sing today was translated from German by Reverend Dr. John Mason Neale. The fact that the song has survived so many revisions speaks to its power and durability.
  • "O Holy Night" This song was composed in France by Adolphe Charles Adam. Although "O Holy Night" was not initially well received by French church authorities, audiences have long loved this popular Christmas Eve solo.
  • "The First Noel" This is a quintessential Christmas song. "The First Noel" most likely originated in thirteenth- or fourteenth-century Mystery Plays (dramatizations based on Bible stories) to tell the tale of Jesus' birth. The version we know was first published in 1833.
  • "Go Tell It on the Mountain" "Go Tell It on the Mountain" celebrates Jesus' promise of liberation for all people. The upbeat tempo reflects the power of that promise. This rousing spiritual became popular after a performance by Fish University's Jubilee Singers in 1879.
  • "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" The originally German "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" was written in 1905 and, once English lyrics were added by Ballard Macdonald, quickly became an American Christmas standard. But even if you listen to the American version of the song, you'll probably notice that it has German origins.
  • "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" Almost everyone is familiar with this Christmas classic, which is a traditional caroling tune. Caroling groups in England, known as "waits," often employed this tune in hopes of earning a sweet treat for themselves.
  • "O Come, All Ye Faithful" This is another song that seemingly everyone knows. "O Come, All Ye Faithful" (or "Adeste Fideles," as it was originally known) was first published around 1751. About a century later, it became a popular church hymn when Frederick Oakeley translated it into English from Latin.
  • "Joy to the World" Here's yet another Christmas standard. The lyrics to "Joy to the World" were first attributed to George Frideric Handel -- probably a ploy by the composer to increase the song's popularity. We now know, after much research from musicologists, that the words for this melody come from the Psalms of David.
  • "I Saw Three Ships" The imagery represented in "I Saw Three Ships" is still puzzling to historians. Does it represent the Trinity? Columbus's voyage? Whatever the lyricist's intent, the song has been popular since its publication in 1666.
  • "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen" "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen" was another favorite of the caroling groups, or "waits," in seventeenth-century England. It was also used by Charles Dickens in his classic holiday story "A Christmas Carol." To read "A Christmas Carol," click here.
  • "Auld Lang Syne" How can anyone ring in the New Year without a rousing round of "Auld Lang Syne?" This traditional song finds its roots in Scotland and was made popular by Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians.

'Deck the Halls'

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The classic Christmas carol "Deck the Halls" is a true blending of international style. Its melody is steeped in Welsh tradition, but the lyrics were added in 19th-century America when the country was experiencing a wave of affinity for all things English -- especially Charles Dickens' colorful writings.

The following lyrics recall the home-crafted decorations of holly, boughs of evergreen, and Christmas florals that were strung from pillar to post inside England's vaulted estates. Though harkening back to days of British splendor, this song reminds us of our passion for lavishing our homes with colorful decorations to accent the Christmas season.

"Deck the Halls" Lyrics

1. Deck the halls with boughs of holly

Fa la ...

'Tis the season to be jolly,

Fa la ...

Don we now our gay apparel

Fa la ...

Troll the ancient yuletide carol,

Fa la ...

2. See the blazing yule before us,

Fa la...

Strike the harp and join the chorus,

Fa la...

Follow me in merry measure,

Fa la...

While I tell of Christmas treasure.

Fa la...

3. Fast away the old year passes,

Fa la...

Hail the new! Ye lads and lasses;

Fa la...

Sing we joyous all together,

Fa la...

Heedless of the wind and weather.

Fa la...

Christmas sheet music: "Deck the Halls"

Our next Christmas song memorializes a long-dead leader who was so well loved that we still sing about him. Read on to learn more about "Good King Wenceslas."

'Good King Wenceslas'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Though history is laden with wicked royalty, one titled ruler stands tall: King Wenceslas (who was actually the Duke of Bohemia). His kind heart was silenced by a jealous brother in 929, but, centuries later, his memory surfaced as the subject of a children's song written by John Mason Neale.

To add the perfect melody to his tribute, Neale picked an unlikely Latin tune: "Tempus adest floridum" or "Spring has unwrapped her flowers," first published in a Swedish song collection in 1582. Its application to Neale's lyrics proved to be a remarkable tribute to a beloved ruler whose kindness has never been forgotten.

"Good King Wenceslas" Lyrics

1. Good King Wenceslas looked out,

On the feast of Stephen,

When the snow lay round about,

Deep and crisp and even.

Brightly shone the moon that night,

Though the frost was cruel,

When a poor man came in sight,

Gath'ring winter fuel.

2. "Come now, page, and stand by me,

I must hear thy telling,

Yonder peasant, who is he?

Where and what his dwelling?"

"Sire he lives a good league hence,

Underneath the mountain,

Right against the forest fence,

By Saint Agnes' Fountain."

3. "Bring me flesh and bring me wine,

Bring me pine logs hither,

Thou and I shall see him dine,

When we bear them thither."

Therefore Christian men, be sure,

Wealth or rank possessing,

Ye who now will bless the poor,

Shall yourselves find blessing.

Christmas sheet music: "Good King Wenceslas"

Children and adults alike can join in our next song, a classic Christmas round. Keep reading to learn about "Christmas is Coming."

'Christmas Is Coming'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Edith Nesbitt wrote the lyrics to this traditional Christmas round more than a century ago, and the song has been popular ever since. It reminds us that the Christmas season is one of charity and giving, a time to think of those less fortunate than ourselves.

"Christmas Is Coming" Lyrics

1. Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat;

Please to put a penny in the old man's hat,

Please to put a penny in the old man's hat.

2. If you haven't got a penny, a haypenny will do;

If you haven't got a haypenny, well God bless you,

If you haven't got a haypenny, well God bless you.

Christmas sheet music: "Christmas Is Coming"

While most everyone knows our next Christmas classic, you might have trouble keeping all those verses straight! Go to the next page to learn more about "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

'The Twelve Days of Christmas'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

During the Middle Ages, Christmas celebrations in Europe were elevated to new heights when people adopted the custom of giving 12 gifts to loved ones, one every day from Christmas to Epiphany. From the grandest of lords to the poorest peasants, the tradition was celebrated with great enthusiasm.

"The Twelve Days of Christmas" was written sometime during the sixteenth century. Although predominantly about the tradition of giving extravagant gifts, this tune also glorified society's passion for "counting songs." Whether singing of golden rings or fat geese, even those unable to buy such luxuries could hold these lyrics as promises of heartfelt gifts to come during this glittering season of giving.

"The Twelve Days of Christmas" Lyrics

1. On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:

A partridge in a pear tree.

2. On the second day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:

Two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.

3. On the third day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:

Three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

4. On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:

Four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and partridge in a pear tree.

5. On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:

Five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

6. On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:

Six geese a-laying ...

7. On the seven day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:

Seven swans a-swimming ...

8. On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:

Eight maids a-milking ...

9. On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:

Nine ladies dancing ...

10. On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:

Ten lords a-leaping ...

11. On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:

Eleven pipers piping ...

12. On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:

Twelve drummers drumming ...

Christmas sheet music: "The Twelve Days of Christmas"

Our next song is considered by some to be one of the most sacred Christmas hymns. Keep reading to learn more about "Ave Maria."

'Ave Maria'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Few sacred hymns are as universally known as "Ave Maria." Originally a Roman Catholic prayer, "Ave Maria" was actually derived from biblical scripture: Luke 1:28.

The original melody associated with the song's first stanza symbolized the miracle of the Annunciation and was deeply rooted in the style of tenth-century liturgical chants.

Franz Schubert orchestrated a contemporary version of the hymn in 1825. Many people consider "Ave Maria" to be the most sacred of all hymns.

"Ave Maria" Lyrics:

Ave Maria! Gratia plena.

Christmas sheet music: "Ave Maria"

Christmas carolers in England used to sing from door to door, hoping for a sweet reward or, better yet, a cup of wassail. Not sure what wassail is? Well, we have the answer. Go to the next page to learn more about "Here We Come A-Wassailing." It's a song that is sure to add some flavor to your holiday season.

'Here We Come A-Wassailing'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Also known as "Here We Come A-Caroling" and "The Wassail Song," this jolly English ditty is steeped in tradition. Imagine a British cobblestone street; snow soft in the streetlight's glow.

Despite constant hardship, beggars and orphans would dance and sing in the streets at Christmas, hoping to receive a pork pie, a penny, or some time in front of a blazing fire in return. However, the most prized pittance was a bowl of wassail -- which combines ale, wine, and spices -- to warm the heart as well as the soul.

"Here We Come A-Wassailing" Lyrics

1. Here we come a-wassailing

Among the leaves so green;

Here we come a wandering

So fair to be seen.

Love and joy come to you,

And to you your wassail too

And God bless you and send you

A Happy New Year.

2. Our wassail cup is made

Of the rosemary tree,

And so is your beer

Of the best barley.

Love and joy ...

3. We are not daily beggars

That beg from door to door,

But we are neighbors' children

Whom you have seen before.

Love and joy ...

4. God bless the master of this house,

Likewise the mistress too,

And all the little children

That round the table go.

Love and joy ...

Christmas sheet music: "Here We Come A-Wassailing"

Our next carol is an all-time Christmas classic, but it got its start as a Thanksgiving song. See the next page to learn about "Jingle Bells."

'Jingle Bells'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Some songs are known for their appeal to adults; others for their popularity with children. "Jingle Bells" enchants both audiences, but it might surprise you to know that the original music, composed by Boston Sunday school teacher James Pierpont, was conceived as a Thanksgiving song in 1857.

Originally titled "The One Horse Open Sleigh," the song was taught by Pierpont to his pupils for a performance and was delighted to find that all 40 of them learned its lyrics almost immediately. Declared "a merry jingle" by a close friend, this holiday carol was fine-tuned and performed again at Christmastime, and quickly became a Yuletide classic.

"Jingle Bells" Lyrics

1. Dashing through the snow,

in a one-horse open sleigh,

O'er the fields we go,

Laughing all the way.

Bells on bobtail ring,

Making spirits bright,

What fun it is to ride and sing

a sleighing song tonight!

Oh! Jingle bells, jingle bells,

Jingle all the way!

Oh what fun it is to ride

in a one-horse open sleigh!

2. A day or two ago

I thought I'd take a ride,

And soon Miss Fannie Bright,

Was seated by my side,

The horse was lean and lank,

Misfortune seemed his lot,

He got into a drifted bank

And then us got upsot!

Oh! Jingle bells ...

Christmas sheet music: "Jingle Bells"

There are many stories that speculate about the origins of the Christmas tree, but just one song exists that honors the beauty of the trees we decorate every holiday season. On the next page, we provide an overview of "O Christmas Tree."

'O Christmas Tree'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Folktales describing how evergreen trees came to symbolize Christmas can be found in nearly every culture. Centuries-old lore describes evergreen trees blooming in every forest on earth the night Jesus was born. It's also said that Martin Luther, upon glimpsing the stars twinkling over treetops, cut an evergreen down and lavished it with candles to replicate the effect that he had witnessed in the forest.

These stories are the basis of the ageless German song that praises all trees at Yuletide: "O Tannenbaum," or "O Christmas Tree." Although its author's identity has been lost in the passage of time, this timeless tune will not be forgotten.

"O Christmas Tree" Lyrics

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,

How lovely are your branches,

So green and bright in summertime,

As well as winter's snowy clime,

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,

How lovely are your branches.

Christmas sheet music: "O Christmas Tree"

Do you know which popular Christmas carol started out as an advertisement? Check out the next page to learn some surprising facts about "The Holly and the Ivy."

'The Holly and the Ivy'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Given the diverse origins of many of the Christmas carols we sing, you might not be surprised to learn that one evolved as the result of an advertisement. "The Holly and the Ivy" likely originated as a broadside (print ad) posted in England around 1700.

The song was published in 1861 by Joshua Sylvester, who admitted to its commercial heritage. Though lavished with symbols predating Christianity, this song's lyrics don't completely explain the meaning behind the greenery in its title.

"The Holly and the Ivy" Lyrics

1. The holly and the ivy,

When they are both full grown,

Of all the trees that are in the wood,

The holly bears the crown:

The rising of the sun,

And the running of the dear,

The playing of the merry organ,

Sweet singing in the choir ...

2. The holly bears a blossom,

As white as lily flowers,

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ

To be our sweet Saviour.

The rising of the sun ...

3. The holly bears a berry,

As red as any blood,

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ

To do poor sinners good.

The rising of the sun ...

Christmas sheet music: "The Holly and the Ivy"

Tchaikovsky's ballet "The Nutracker" contains some of the best-known holiday music, including our next song. Keep reading to learn about "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy."

'Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

When the winter of 1892 ended, the Russian Musical Society reminded composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky of his promise to conceive a new ballet. Given just days to meet this commitment, he merged an existing overture with several lesser melodies, completing his ballet, known as "The Nutcracker," on March 19.

First performed at St. Petersburg's Maryinsky Theater the following Christmas, "The Nutcracker" continues to thrill audiences -- particularly those eagerly awaiting the ballet's crown jewel: "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy."

But there is more to "The Nutcracker" than a ballet. It also has been converted into a story that makes great reading during the holiday season. "The Nutcracker" is the tale of a toy figure that turns into a prince. To read "The Nutcracker," click here.

Christmas sheet music: "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy"

Before our next song came along, no one was quite sure how Santa Claus managed to get inside houses to deliver his gifts. Now we know he uses the chimney. Not only does "Up on the Housetop" shed some valuable light on the workings of Santa, but it also is a fun song to sing. See the next page to learn more about "Up on the "Housetop."

'Up on the Housetop'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

When Clement Clarke Moore penned "A Visit From St. Nicholas" as a Christmas entertainment for his children, he probably had no idea that his story would continue to be told for hundreds of years. But thanks to its retelling and the fact that Ohio composer and lyricist Benjamin Russell Hanby decided to use it as the inspiration for his holiday tune, the charming tale of Santa's annual visit has been chronicled for all time as "Up on the Housetop." If Moore hadn't revealed Santa's entry point and Hanby hadn't agreed, children everywhere might still wonder how all those Christmas presents are delivered!

"Up on the Housetop" Lyrics

1. Up on the housetop the reindeer pause,

Out jumps good old Santa Claus.

Down through the chimney with lots of toys,

All for children's Christmas joys.

Ho, ho, ho! Who wouldn't go!

Ho, ho, ho! Who wouldn't go!

Up on the housetop, click, click, click,

Down through the chimney with good Saint Nick.

2. First comes the stocking of little Nell;

Oh, dear Santa, fill it well;

Give her a dolly that laughs and cries,

One that can open and shut its eyes.

3. Look in the stocking of little Bill;

Oh, just see that glorious fill!

Here is a hammer and lots of tacks,

Whistle and ball and a set of jacks.

Christmas sheet music: "Up on the Housetop"

Our next song is another Christmas classic about the man in the sleigh. On the following page, read about "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas."

'Jolly Old Saint Nicholas'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Doesn't every child dream of asking Santa Claus the following question: "Which presents will be showing up under the Christmas tree this year?" "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas" is a traditional American Christmas song that sets that desire to music.

"Jolly Old Saint Nicholas" Lyrics

Jolly old Saint Nicholas,

Lean your ear this way,

Don't you tell a single soul

What I'm going to say.

Christmas Eve is coming soon,

Now, you dear old man,

Whisper what you'll bring to me,

Tell me if you can.

Christmas sheet music: "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas"

American poet Oliver Wendell Holmes called our next hymn "one of the finest and most beautiful ever written." Read about "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" on the following page.

'It Came Upon a Midnight Clear'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

When Massachusetts Unitarian minister Edmund Hamilton Sears published his poem "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" in a church magazine, his anonymity came to a resounding end. The words he wrote were instantly deemed profound by readers, and then set to music by Richard Storrs Willis the following year.

An unlikely collaborator, Willis was an editor and music critic for the New York Tribune. Fortuitously, he had also received extensive musical training in Europe, and his work with Sears produced a hymn that was deemed "one of the finest and most beautiful ever written," by American poet Oliver Wendell Holmes.

"It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" Lyrics

1. It came upon a midnight clear,

That glorious song of old,

From angels bending near the earth,

To touch their harps of gold.

"Peace on the earth, good will to men,

From Heaven's all gracious King."

The World in solemn stillness lay

To hear the angels sing

2. Still through the cloven skies they come,

With peaceful wings unfurled,

And still their heav'nly music floats

O'er all the weary world.

Above its sad and lowly plains

They bend on hovering wing.

And ever o'er its Babel sounds

The blessed angels sing.

3. And ye beneath life's crushing load,

Whose forms are bending low,

Who toil along the climbing way

With painful steps and slow:

Look now, for glad and golden hours

Come swiftly on the wing;

O rest beside the weary road,

And hear the angels sing.

4. For lo! the days are hastening on,

By prophet-bards foretold,

When, with the ever-circling years,

Comes round the age of gold.

When peace shall over all the earth

Its ancient splendors fling,

And the whole world give back the song

Which now the angels sing.

Christmas sheet music: "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear"

The next song offers a literal version of the Biblical account of Jesus' birth. You'll find "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks" on the following page.

'While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Advocates of a "literal interpretation" of the nativity story in church liturgy and hymns greeted "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks" with enthusiasm. The reason was simple: The hymn closely replicates the Bible's description of events on the night of Jesus' birth.

It also helped that a distinguished group of musicians contributed to the hymn's creation. George Frideric Handel, composer of the famed oratorio Messiah, wrote the music. Years later, Richard Storrs Willis of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" fame infused Handel's old melody with text adapted from an even older work published by Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brody in 1696. And the result is timeless.

"While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks" Lyrics

1. While shepherds watched their flocks by night,

All seated on the ground,

The angel of the Lord came down,

And glory shone around,

And glory shone around.

2. "Fear not" said he, for mighty dread

Had seized their troubled minds;

"Glad tidings of great joy I bring

To you and all mankind.

3. "To you, in David's town, this day

Is born of David's line

The Saviour, who is Christ the Lord

And this shall be the sign:

4. "The heav'nly babe you there shall find

To human view displayed,

All meanly wrapped in swathing bands,

And in a manger laid.

5. "All glory be to God on high,

And to the earth be peace;

Good will henceforth from heav'n to men

Begin and never cease!"

Christmas sheet music: "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks"

Shepherds in southern France used to shout "Gloria in excelsis Deo, Gloria in excelsis Deo!" from hill to hill to celebrate the coming of Christmas. The song on the next page, "Angels We Have Heard on High," is based on that jubilant cry.

'Angels We Have Heard on High'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

For many years, the hills of southern France were home to shepherds whose duties required their presence day and night, year-round. To celebrate the birth of Jesus, a custom evolved among the shepherds that can't be traced to an exact date. On Christmas Eve, these shepherds shouted "Gloria in excelsis Deo, Gloria in excelsis Deo!" from hill to hill, spreading the celebratory news.

There is speculation that this spirited chant originated in a medieval Latin chorale. Eighteenth-century music later fused words with melody to become the French carol "Les Anges dans nos Campagnes." The version we sing today was first published in a collection of holiday carols in 1855.

"Angels We Have Heard on High" Lyrics

1. Angels we have heard on high,

Sweetly singing o'er the plains,

And the mountains in reply,

Echoing their joyous strains

Gloria, In excelsis Deo, Deo.

2. Shepherds why this jubilee?

Why your joyous strains prolong?

What the gladsome tidings be

Which inspire your heav'nly song?

Gloria ...

3. Come to Bethlehem and see

Him whose birth the angels sing;

Come, adore on bended knee

Christ the Lord, the newborn King.

Gloria ...

Christmas sheet music: "Angels We Have Heard on High"

Our next song is a hymn with music originally composed by Felix Mendelssohn. To learn about "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," go to the following page.

'Hark! The Herald Angels Sing'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Gifted composer Felix Mendelssohn wrote the spirited musical undercurrent that propels the hymn "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." This melody was once part of a cantata that he had written in 1840 and dedicated to the inventor of the printing press, Johannes Gutenberg.

In 1855, W. H. Cummings became convinced that the music deserved lyrics. He matched Mendelssohn's melody with words that had been written by Charles Wesley in 1739. Despite extensive editing of the song's first line, this hymn bore the trademark phraseology of Wesley, the renowned Methodist poet.

"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" Lyrics

1. Hark! The herald angels sing

Glory to the new born King

Peace on earth and mercy mild,

God and sinners reconciled.

Joyful all ye nations rise,

Join the triumph of the skies,

With angelic host proclaim

Christ is born in Bethlehem!

Hark! The herald angels sing

Glory to the newborn King.

2. Christ by highest heaven adored,

Christ the everlasting Lord!

Late in time behold Him come,

Offspring of a virgin's womb.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,

Hail the Incarnate Deity,

Pleased with men as man to dwell,

Jesus our Immanuel!

Hark ...

3. Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!

Hail the Son of Righteousness!

Life and light to all He brings,

Ris'n with healing in His wings.

Mild He lays His glory by,

Born that man no more may die,

Born to raise the sons of earth,

Born to give them second birth.

Hark ...

Christmas sheet music: "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"

Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar -- the three Biblical wise men -- were given new musical recognition with the song on our next page, "We Three Kings of Orient Are."

'We Three Kings of Orient Are'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

John Henry Hopkins, Jr., was instrumental in organizing an elaborate holiday pageant for the students of the General Theological Seminary in New York City in 1857. Hopkins, the seminary's music director, wrote and staged the pageant, which included his upbeat composition "We Three Kings of Orient Are."

This piece depicts the journeys of the three wise men, who traveled from separate parts of the globe to pay homage at the crib of Jesus in Bethlehem. Hopkins' words and music elevated Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar -- following a fabled star and carrying gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh -- to new musical heights.

"We Three Kings of Orient Are" Lyrics

1. We three Kings of Orient are

Bearing gifts we traverse afar.

Field and fountain, moor and mountain,

Following yonder star.

O, Star of wonder star of night,

Star with royal beauty bright

Westward leading, still proceeding

Guide us to thy perfect light.

2. Born a King on Bethlehem's plain,

Gold I bring to crown Him again,

King forever, ceasing never,

Over us all to reign.

O, Star ...

3. Frankincense to offer have I;

Incense owns a deity nigh.

Prayer and praising, all men raising,

Worship Him, God most high.

O, Star ...

4. Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume

Breathes a life of gathering gloom,

Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,

Sealed in the stone cold tomb.

O, Star ...

5. Glorious now behold Him arise,

King and God and sacrifice,

Alleluia, Alleluia;

Earth to the heav'ns replies.

O, Star ...

Christmas sheet music: "We Three Kings of Orient Are"

Our next Christmas song is a reverent carol about the messengers who first brought word of Jesus' birth. Learn about "Angels From the Realms of Glory" on the following page.

'Angels From the Realms of Glory'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

"Angels From the Realms of Glory," written in 1816 by James Montgomery, celebrates the messengers who first told shepherds of the birth of Jesus. This reverent carol recalls the angels' flight to earth to share their joy with all mankind.

"Angels From the Realms of Glory" Lyrics

1. Angels from the realms of glory

Wing your flight o'er all the earth.

Ye who sang creation's story

Now proclaim Messiah's birth.

Come and worship, come and worship,

Worship Christ the newborn King.

2. Shepherds in the fields abiding,

Watching o'er your flocks by night,

God with man is now residing;

Yonder shines the infant light.

Come and worship ...

3. Sages leave your contemplations;

Brighter visions beam afar,

Seek the great desire of nations;

Ye have seen His natal star.

Come and worship ...

Christmas sheet music: "Angels From the Realms of Glory"

King Herod's reign of terror inspired the following selection, "Coventry Carol," a haunting lullaby. Read about it on the next page.

'Coventry Carol'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

It would be difficult to find a hymn with roots that run deeper than "Coventry Carol." The melody and lyrics are said to have originated in the songs that Bethlehem women would sing as they held their firstborn sons during King Herod's reign of terror (when he ordered the murder of all infant sons in order to ensure the death of the newborn "King of the Jews").

The melody later reemerged in Christmas pageants that were performed by the sheep shearers and tailors of Coventry, England, on the steps of the city's cathedral between 1534 and 1584. Today, "Coventry Carol" not only commemorates its sixteenth-century English roots, but also memorializes the innocent children who died due to King Herod's jealous proclamation.

"Coventry Carol" Lyrics

1. Lullay, thou little tiny child,

By, by, lully, lullay:

Lullay, thou little tiny child,

By, by, lully, lullay.

2. O sisters, too, how may we do,

For to preserve this day?

This poor Youngling for whom we sing,

By, by, lully, lullay.

3. Herod the king in his raging,

Charged he hath this day

His men of might, in his own sight,

All children young to slay.

4. Then woe is me, poor child for thee,

And ever morn and day,

For thy parting nor say nor sing

By, by, lully, lullay.

Christmas sheet music: "Coventry Carol"

The following carol was inspired by a minister's visit to the town of Bethlehem. Go to the next page to read more about "O Little Town of Bethlehem."

'O Little Town of Bethlehem'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

When Phillips Brooks, a well-known Philadelphia minister, traveled to the Holy Land in 1865, the experience so moved him that he returned home with new resolve to bring the story of Jesus' birth to his congregants. With memories of his trip "still singing in his soul," Brooks wrote the words his heart felt as he walked the streets of Bethlehem.

He then turned to Sunday school teacher and part-time organist Lewis H. Redner to aid in the song's completion. This delicate hymn was premiered by the church's children's choir to a thrilled congregation in 1868.

"O Little Town of Bethlehem" Lyrics

1. O Little Town of Bethlehem,

How still we see thee lie.

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep,

The silent stars go by.

Yet in thy dark street shineth

The everlasting light

The hope and fears of all the years

Are met in thee tonight.

2. For Christ is born of Mary,

And gathered all above,

While mortals sleep, the angels keep

Their watch of wondering love.

O morning stars together

Proclaim the holy birth!

And praises sing to God the King

And peace to men on earth.

3. How silently, how silently,

The wondrous gift is given!

So God imparts to human hearts

The blessings of His heaven.

No ear may hear His coming,

But in this world of sin,

Where meek souls will receive Him, still

The dear Christ enters in.

Christmas sheet music: "O Little Town of Bethlehem"

"Silent Night" is among the most beloved Christmas carols. But did you know it was hurriedly written at the last minute for a Bavarian village's Christmas Eve celebration? Learn more about "Silent Night" on the next page.

'Silent Night'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Father Joseph Mohr was in a quandary. Christmas Eve was only hours away, but his seasonal hymn was still incomplete due to a broken organ (some say mice were the cause of the damage). Father Mohr feared that if the tune was left unfinished, Christmas 1818 would forever be remembered as Oberdorf, Germany's, "tuneless Yuletide." Happily, organist Franz Gruber rescued Mohr with a simple arrangement for voice and guitars.

When the clocks struck midnight, the just-written "Silent Night" echoed across the Bavarian village. This simple, haunting carol traveled quickly from town to town, but it took 30 years for news of its popularity to reach its amazed composers. To read the full story of "Silent Night," click here.

"Silent Night" Lyrics

1. Silent night, Holy night!

All is calm, all is bright,

Round yon Virgin Mother and Child,

Holy Infant so tender and mild;

Sleep in heavenly peace,

Sleep in heavenly peace.

2. Silent night, Holy night!

Shepherds quake at the sight.

Glories stream from heaven afar,

Heav'nly hosts sing Hallelujah,

Christ the Saviour is born,

Christ the Saviour is born.

3. Silent night, Holy night!

Son of God, love's pure light.

Radiant beams from Thy holy face,

With the dawn of redeeming grace,

Jesus Lord at Thy birth.

Christmas sheet music: "Silent Night"

No one is quite sure about the origins of our next song, a sweet Christmas lullaby. Keep reading to learn more about "Away in a Manger."

'Away in a Manger'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Martin Luther is rumored to have authored "Away in a Manger," but the hymn more likely debuted anonymously around 1885. The song served as inspiration to James R. Murray, who included the hymn under the title of "Luther's Cradle Hymn" in his 1887 book "Dainty Songs for Lads and Lassies." This is probably the reason for its attribution to the great German religious leader.

Given so circuitous an evolution, you won't be surprised to learn that some people think that Murray was the composer. Others are convinced that the lyric is derived from the Scottish poem, "Flow Gently, Sweet Afton," written by Robert Burns. No matter what its origin, this lullaby of a hymn continues to soften hearts every Christmas.

"Away in a Manger" Lyrics

1. Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,

The little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head.

The stars in the sky looked down where He lay,

The little Lord Jesus a sleep in the hay.

2. The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes

But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.

I love thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky

And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.

3. Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay

Close by me forever, and love me, I pray.

Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,

And take us to Heaven to live with Thee there.

Christmas sheet music: "Away in a Manger"

Our next song probably started out as a fourteenth-century French dance. Keep reading to find out more about "Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella."

'Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Fourteenth-century French socials often included the ritournelle, a lively court dance. One ritournelle melody survives as the song that became the French Christmas carol "Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella." The central characters of the song might have served as inspiration for the two serving maids depicted at the nativity in a famous painting by Georges de La Tour.

The lyrics are said to have originated in either Anjou or Burgundy. They were paired with the melody and first published in 1553 by a wealthy nobleman in Cantiques de Premiere Advenement de Jesus-Christ.

"Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella" Lyrics

1. Bring a torch, Jeannette, Isabella!

Bring a torch to the cradle run!

It is Jesus, good folks of the village;

Christ is born and Mary's calling:

Ah! ah! beautiful is the mother!

Ah! ah! beautiful is her Son!

2. It is wrong when the Child is sleeping

It is wrong to talk so loud;

Silence, all, as you gather around,

Lest your noise should waken Jesus:

Hush! hush! see how fast He slumbers:

Hush! hush! see how fast He sleeps!

3. Softly to the little stable,

Softly for the moment come;

Look and see how charming is Jesus,

See how He smiles, Oh see how rosy!

Hush! hush! see how the Child is sleeping;

Hush! hush! see how He smiles in dreams.

Christmas sheet music: "Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella"

You might recognize the tune for our next Christmas carol -- it shares its melody with the traditional English song "Greensleeves." Learn the history of "What Child is This?" on the following page.

'What Child Is This?'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

You probably recognize the melody of England's "Greensleeves" as identical to the Christmas hymn, "What Child Is This?" Initially, Richard Jones was credited with writing "Greensleeves" in 1580, but some believe that King Henry VIII, rather than Jones, authored it.

Regardless of the true composer, Queen Elizabeth I, Henry's daughter, enjoyed dancing to it. This traditional song was also mentioned by William Shakespeare in The Merry Wives of Windsor. In 1865, three stanzas of the William Chatterton Dix poem "The Manger Throne" were set to the tune, giving birth to "What Child Is This?"

"What Child is This?" Lyrics

1. What child is this who, laid to rest,

on Mary's lap is sleeping,

Whom angels greet with anthems sweet

While shepherds watch are keeping.

This, this is Christ the King,

Whom shepherds guard and angels sing.

Haste, haste to bring Him laud,

The Babe, the Son of Mary!

2. Why lies He in such mean estate

Where ox and ass are feeding?

Good Christians fear: for sinners here

The silent Word is pleading.

Nail, spear shall pierce Him through,

The Cross be borne for me, for you;

Hail! Hail the Word Made Flesh,

The Babe, the Son of Mary!

3. So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh;

Come, peasant, king, to own Him!

The King of Kings salvation brings

Let loving hearts enthrone Him!

Raise, raise the song on high!

The Virgin sings her lullaby.

Joy! Joy! for Christ is born,

The Babe, the Son of Mary!

Christmas sheet music: "What Child Is This?"

"Good Christian Men, Rejoice," our next song, was written in the fourteenth century and has undergone many transformations since then. Keep reading to learn about it.

'Good Christian Men, Rejoice'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

This song has survived several complex revisions since its anonymous fourteenth-century creation. In 1601, Bartholomaeus Gesius wrote a modern arrangement of the traditional tune, now called "In Dulci Jubilo."

Later, Johann Sebastian Bach included Gesius's theme in his Chorale Preludes for the organ. In its next generation, Sir John Stainer made further refinements to the tune under its new title, "Nun singet und seid froh." The Christmas song that we enjoy today is courtesy of Reverend Dr. John Mason Neale, who translated the lyrics into English from German.

"Good Christian Men, Rejoice" Lyrics

1. Good Christian men, rejoice

With heart and soul and voice,

Give ye heed to what we say, News! News!

Jesus Christ is born today!

Ox and ass before Him bow, And He is in the manger now.

Christ is born today!

Christ is born today!

2. Good Christian men, rejoice

With heart and soul and voice,

Now ye hear of endless bliss:

Joy! Joy! Jesus Christ was born for this.

He hath o'ened the heavenly door,

And man is blessed evermore.

Christ was born for this!

Christ was born for this!

3. Good Christian men rejoice

With heart and soul and voice,

Now ye need not fear the grave:

Peace! Peace! Jesus Christ was born to save

Calls you one and calls you all,

To gain His everlasting hall.

Christ was born to save!

Christ was born to save!

Christmas sheet music: "Good Christian Men, Rejoice"

The composer of our next Christmas carol was accused of having "a lack of musical taste" -- but luckily, modern audiences disagree. See the following page for more on "O Holy Night."

'O Holy Night'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

The composer of "O Holy Night," Adolphe Charles Adam, found himself in the midst of controversy when his song received a negative reaction from French church authorities. The nineteenth-century composer, known for his ballet Giselle, was accused of having "a lack of musical taste" by a French bishop.

Happily, society disagreed. Poet Cappeau de Roquemaure added lyrics to Adam's music, renaming it "Cantique de Noel." Later, a translation by American composer John Sullivan Dwight brought the English version to our shores. Today, the solemn "O Holy Night" is sung as a popular Christmas Eve solo.

"O Holy Night" Lyrics

O holy night, the stars are brightly shinning,

It is the night of the dear Savior's birth.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,

Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,

For yonder breaks a new glorous morn.

Fall on your knees, O, hear the angel voices!

O night divine! O night when Christ was born!

O night divine! O night, O night divine!

Christmas sheet music: "O Holy Night"

Thirteenth- or fourteenth-century Mystery Plays are the most likely origin for the following Christmas carol, "The First Noel." Learn about this Christmas classic on the next page.

'The First Noel'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Mystery Plays -- dramatizations of biblical stories -- were quite popular. A favorite play topic was Jesus' birth. These events were often orchestrated by singers, writers, and musicians.

Possibly of French or English origin ("Noel" is French for "Christmas"), "The First Noel" remains a descendant of these productions. Words added by William Sandys for his 1833 compendium of hymns, Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern, mark the first time that the lyrics and music were published together.

"The First Noel" Lyrics

1. The first Noel the angels did say,

was to certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay.

In fields where they lay keeping their sheep,

On a cold winter's night that was so deep.

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,

Born is the King of Israel.

2. They looked up and saw a star

Shining in the East beyond them far,

And to the earth it gave great light,

And so it continued both day and night.

Noel, Noel, Noel ...

3. This star drew nigh to the northwest,

O'er Bethlehem it took its rest.

And there it did both stop and stay

Right over the place where Jesus lay.

Noel, Noel, Noel ...

Christmas sheet music: "The First Noel"

Jesus' message of liberation for all people is depicted in a powerful manner in the next song, "Go, Tell It on the Mountain." Read about this joyous song on the following page.

'Go, Tell It on the Mountain'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

To the men and women held in the bondage of slavery (and its memory), ideals of liberation are held high. Therefore, Jesus' promise of liberation for all people, combined with the imagery of The Sermon on the Mount, was cherished by African Americans.

Chances are, this became the inspiration for the rousing spiritual, "Go, Tell It on the Mountain." Though its author is unknown, the hymn is assumed to have originated in the early 1800s. "Go, Tell It on the Mountain" was popularized in 1879 when performed by the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University, a school that once specialized in educating freed slaves.

"Go Tell It on the Mountain" Lyrics

1. Go tell it on the mountain,

Over the hills and everywhere,

Go tell it on the mountain,

That Jesus Christ is born!

When I was a seeker,

I sought both night and day,

I asked the Lord to help me,

And He showed me the way.

Oh! Go tell it on the mountain,

Over the hills and everywhere,

Go tell it on the mountain,

That Jesus Christ is born!

2. While shepherds kept their watching

O'er silent flocks by night,

Behold throughout the heavens

There shone a holy light.

3. The shepherds feared and trembled

When lo! above the earth

Rang out the angel chorus

That hailed our Savior's birth.

4. Down in a lowly manger

The humble Christ was born,

And God sent us salvation

That blessed Christmas morn.

Christmas sheet music: "Go, Tell It on the Mountain"

What child doesn't imagine toys on parade, marching around when no one is there to see? Our next Christmas carol paints just such a scene -- keep reading to learn about the origins of "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers."

'Parade of the Wooden Soldiers'

One hearing of the upbeat "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" and you'll likely guess the song's German origins. It was written in 1905 and then "imported" to Paris after a Russian producer heard the lively beat, declaring it an ideal dance tune for the new musical review that he was preparing. The song was destined for international fame.

When the production moved to New York City, "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" attracted the attention of lyricist Ballard Macdonald who had written for the great Ziegfeld as well as other producers. Though not as recognizable as the melody, his lyrics helped make this tune an American Christmas standard.

"Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" Lyrics

The toy shop door is locked up tight

And everything is quiet for the night.

When suddenly the clock strikes twelve,

The fun's begun.

The dolls are in their best arrayed

There's going to be a wonderful parade

Hark to the drum, oh, here they come,

Cries everyone.

Hear them all cheering, now they are nearing,

There's the captain stiff as starch.

Bayonets flashing, music is crashing

As the wooden soldiers march.

Sabers a clinking, soldiers a winking

At each pretty little maid.

Here they come, here they come

Here they come, here they come.

Wooden soldiers on parade.

Daylight is creeping, dollies are sleeping,

In the toy shop window fast;

Soldiers so jolly, think of each dolly,

Dreaming of the night that's past,

When in the morning, without a warning,

Toy man pulls the window shade,

There's no sign the wood brigade

Was ever out upon parade.

Christmas sheet music: "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers"

Caroling through the streets is a holiday tradition. See the next page to learn about a caroling classic, "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."

'We Wish You a Merry Christmas'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

The custom of caroling through the streets originated in England when wealthy businessmen hired street singers to accompany their strolls. The tradition quickly extended to all types of choruses.

These singers became known as "waits," because the group would perform and then wait around for any sweet rewards. Finding the perfect group of singers became a lengthy process; everyone vied for the waits who knew the best carols. "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" was definitely on everyone's list.

"We Wish You a Merry Christmas" Lyrics

1. We wish you a merry Christmas,

We wish you a merry Christmas,

We wish you a merry Christmas

and a happy New Year.

Good Tidings we bring to you and your kin,

Good tidings for Christmas and a happy New Year.

2. Now bring us a figgy pudding,

Now bring us a figgy pudding,

Now bring us a figgy pudding,

And bring it right here.

Good tidings ...

3. We won't go until we get some,

We won't go until we get some,

We won't go until we get some,

So bring it right here.

Good tidings ...

Christmas sheet music: "We Wish You a Merry Christmas"

Whether you're singing in Latin or English, our next song has long been a popular Christmas church hymn. Reacquaint yourself with "O Come, All Ye Faithful" by going to the following page.

'O Come, All Ye Faithful'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Relocating to France in the eighteenth century, Englishman John Francis Wade earned his living by transcribing sheet music and giving music lessons to children. It is not known whether he actually wrote the lyrics for "Adeste Fideles," or if he came across it in his line of work.

Whatever its origin, Wade is credited with the words. He then collaborated with Britain's John Reading to give the hymn a melody and published it around 1751. Revived a century later, "O Come, All Ye Faithful" became a popular church hymn when Frederick Oakeley translated it into English from Latin.

"O Come, All Ye Faithful" Lyrics

1. Oh come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,

O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.

Come and behold Him, born the king of angels.

O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him,

O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

2. Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation;

Sing, all ye citizens of heav'n above:

Glory to God, glory in the highest.

O come ...

3. Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning;

Jesus to Thee be glory giv'n;

Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.

O come ...

Christmas sheet music: "O Come, All Ye Faithful"

The lyrics to our next song came from the psalms of King David, although they weren't always credited to him. Keep reading to learn more about "Joy to the World."

'Joy to the World'

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

The history of the popular "Joy to the World" is truly unusual. Its lyrics originated in the Old Testament as published in Isaac Watt's 1719 translation of the Psalms of David. When American composer Lowell Mason set these words to music in 1839, he added a notation alluding to George Frideric Handel as lyricist (it was common to attribute a song to Handel in those days in order to generate popularity).

Thus, for over a century, the world believed that Handel had composed the song's lyrics. Ultimately, careful sleuthing by musicologists unearthed the truth, and credit was restored to the rightful source: King David.

"Joy to the World" Lyrics

1. Joy to the world, the Lord is come,

Let earth receive her king,

Let every heart prepare Him room,

And heav'n and nature sing,

And heav'n and nature sing,

And heav'n and heav'n and nature sing.

2. Joy to the world, the Savior reigns,

Let men their songs employ,

While fields and floods,

Rocks, hills, and plains,

Repeat the sounding joy,

Repeat the sounding joy,

Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

3. He rules the world with truth and grace,

And makes the nations prove,

The glories of

His righteousness,

And wonders of His love,

And wonders of His love,

And wonders, wonders of His love.

Christmas sheet music: "Joy to the World"

No one is quite sure what the imagery in our next song is meant to represent, but despite that confusion, the song remains a classic Christmas carol. Go to the next page to learn more about "I Saw Three Ships."

'I Saw Three Ships'

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Historians love to debate the symbolism found within the words of the Christmas hymn, "I Saw Three Ships." Do the seafaring vessels represent Columbus's voyage? Or are they indirect references to: the Holy Trinity, the three Wise Men, or I Corinthians 13:13 (King James Version, "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity")?

Whatever the intent of the song's lyricist, "I Saw Three Ships" has been a popular hymn since its publication in 1666. Notably, Cecil Sharp, an English collector of folk songs, discovered several versions of this melody throughout the British Isles.

"I Saw Three Ships" Lyrics

1. I saw three ships come sailing in;

On Christmas Day, On Christmas Day,

I saw three ships come sailing in;

On Christmas Day in the morning.

2. And what was in those ships all three,

On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day?

And what was in those ships all three,

On Christmas Day in the morning?

3. The Virgin Mary and Christ were there,

On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day.

The Virgin Mary and Christ were there,

On Christmas Day in the morning.

4. Pray, whither sailed those ships all three,

On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day?

Pray, whither sailed those ships all three,

On Christmas Day in the morning?

5. O they sailed into Bethlehem,

On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day.

O they sailed into Bethlehem,

On Christmas Day in the morning.

Christmas sheet music: "I Saw Three Ships"

Do you know which holiday song Charles Dickens employed in his classic story, "A Christmas Carol?" Go to the next page to learn the history of "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen."