A Treasury of Christmas Carols

The Victorian Christmas Revival

Part 4. Contributions From The New World

The New World was not to be left out of this resurgence in carol writing. "’Twas in the Moon of Wintertime," (The Huron Carol) is generally considered the first Canadian and North American carol and was originally written in the Huron Indian language in 1640 and set to an old French tune by a Jesuit priest, Jean de Brebeuf [1], with English words by J. E. Middleton.

 Much later, in 1849, another one of the oldest carols was written. Edmund Hamilton Sears wrote the words to "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" and the following year, 1850, Richard Storrs Willis, a New York organist, provided the tune. In 1856, Reverend John Pierpont had written a poem and set it to music called "Jingle Bells". Though it is not thought of as a true Christmas carol, in this century it has joined the list of American favorites. The Reverend John Henry Hopkins, Jr. wrote the words and music for "We Three Kings of Orient Are" around 1857.

Longfellow.JPG (75120 bytes)Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807-1882

After learning that his son had been seriously wounded in the Civil War, in 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the poem that begins, "I heard the bells on Christmas Day" – an anti-war and anti-South poem – which was later joined to a tune written for an entirely different reason.

In 1865, after a trip to the Holy Land, Rector Phillips Brooks [2] wrote the words to "O Little Town of Bethlehem". Three years later, Lewis Redner wrote the music.

In short, the 19th century can be described as an unusually productive century of Christmas song creation, the second golden age of carols. The following carols, among others, were written in that century. In some cases, the "date" is that of the marriage of the lyrics with the (most popular) score, or its date of translation and publication in English.

  • 1825: Watchman, Tell Us Of The Night

  • 1839: Joy To The World (date of marriage of words and music)

  • 1847: O Holy Night (Cantique de Noel) (date written; date of translation by John Sullivan Dwight unknown)

  • 1848: Once in Royal David’s City

  • 1850: It Came Upon the Midnight Clear

  • 1850s: O Come, Little Children

  • 1850s: The Happy Christmas Comes Once More (date of marriage of words and music)

  • 1850s: Christ Was Born on Christmas Day

  • 1852: O Come All Ye Faithful (date of translation to English by Frederick Oakeley)

  • 1853: Good Christian Men Rejoice (a 19th century version of In dulci jubilo)

  • 1853: Good King Wenceslas

  • 1854: O Come, O Come Emmanuel (date of marriage of words and music)

  • 1856: Hark, The Herald Angels Sing (date of marriage of words and music)

  • 1857: We Three Kings of Orient Are

  • 1857: Jingle Bells

  • 1858: All My Heart This Night Rejoices (date of Winkworth translation)

  • 1860: Masters of the Hall

  • 1860s: Up on the Housetop

  • 1860s: Jolly Old St. Nicholas

  • 1861: As With Gladness Men of Old (date of marriage of words and music)

  • 1861: While Shepherds Watched Their Flock by Night (date of marriage of the words and music)

  • 1863: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day (date of composition of poem, which was joined to Calkin’s tune in 1872)

  • 1863: Silent Night (date of translation; originally written 1816-1818)

  • 1865: What Child Is This?

  • 1867: Angels From the Realms of Glory (date of marriage of words and music)

  • 1867: Angels We Have Heard On High (date of marriage of words and Henry Smart’s music)

  • 1867: Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow

  • 1868: O Little Town of Bethlehem

  • 1876: Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne

  • 1887: Away In a Manger

  • 1885: In the Bleak Midwinter

  • 1890: Birthday of a King"

  • 1892: Brightest and Best (date of marriage of words [1811] and music)


1. In retelling the story of the Nativity, Father Brebeuf used symbols and figures that could be understood by the Hurons, and the hymn entered the tribe s oral tradition. It was sung by the Hurons in Ontario until 1649, when the Iroquois killed Father Brebeuf, wiped out the Jesuit mission and drove the Hurons from their home. In Quebec, to which many of the Hurons escaped, the carol re-emerged and was translated into English and French. This version is still sung today throughout Canada and is considered a national treasure that it has been celebrated on a set of Canadian postage stamps. Return

2. Phillips Brooks, b. Boston, Dec. 13, 1835, d. Jan. 23, 1893, was an American Episcopalian bishop noted for his pulpit oratory. He served as rector of churches in Philadelphia and Boston and as bishop of Massachusetts from 1891 to 1893. A "broad" churchman with great confidence in liberal theology and American culture, he stressed the undiscovered potential in human nature and the transforming power of Christianity. His lectures at Yale were published as Lectures on Preaching in 1877. Return

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The Hymns and Carols of Christmas
Douglas D. Anderson

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