The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

O Holy Night

Alternate Title: "Christmas Song"

For Christmas

Version 1
See O Holy Night - Version 2

Compare: O Night Divine

Words: Cantique de NoŽl or Minuit, Chrťtiens ("Midnight, Christians")
Placide Cappeau (1808-1877), 1847;
With Notes
Translated from French to English by John Sullivan Dwight, Esq., ca 1858 (1813-1893).
Cappeau, a wine merchant of Roquemaure, France, wrote poems for his own enjoyment.
Dwight was editor of Dwight's Journal of Music.

Music: Adolphe-Charles Adam (1803-1856).
Adam, born in Paris, France, is best known for his ballet Giselle (1841)
and many other operatic and theatrical works.
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML

Meter: 11, 10, 11, 10 D

Also using this tune is Oh Solemn Hour! When Hearts Were Lowly Bending.

Source: Gems of English Song: A Collection of Very Choice Songs, Duets and Quartets ; with an Accompaniment for the Piano-forte
(Boston: Oliver Ditson, 1875), pp. 206-208.

1. O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviourís 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 world1 rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn;

Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices!
O night divine! O night when Christ was born.
O night, O holy night, O night divine.

2. Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming;
With glowing hearts by his cradle we stand:
So, led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land,
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our friend;

He knows our need, To our weakness no stranger!2
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King! your King! before him bend!

3. Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is Love and His gospel is Peace;
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,
And in his name all oppression shall cease,
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful Chorus raise we;
Let all within us praise his Holy name!

Christ is the Lord, then ever! ever praise we!3
His pow'r and glory, evermore proclaim!
His pow'r and glory, evermore proclaim!


1. Or: soul. (Thanks, David!). Return

2. Or: He guardeth us from danger; Return

3. Or: O praise His name forever! Return

Sheet Music "Cantique de Noel," Adolphe Adam
New York: G. Schirmer, 1871
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML

Three verses. The lyrics are from J. S. Dwight, but there is no mention of his name in the sheet music.

Source: Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division,
America Singing: Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets
(American Memory, Performing Arts-Music)

Also from Schirmer is this longer arrangement from 1884:
Page One
Page Two
Page Three
Page Four
Page Five
Page Six
Page Seven
Page Eight

Sheet music from Gems of English Song: A Collection of Very Choice Songs, Duets and Quartets ; with an Accompaniment for the Piano-forte
(Boston: Oliver Ditson, 1875), pp. 206-208.
Three verses. English lyrics attributed to J. S. Dwight, music by A. Adam.

Christmas_Song-Dwight-Gems_English_Songs-206.jpg (96176 bytes) Christmas_Song-Dwight-Gems_English_Songs-207.jpg (94456 bytes) Christmas_Song-Dwight-Gems_English_Songs-208.jpg (120077 bytes)

A French Score (about 1880):
Minuit Chretiens

Link to score opens in a new window at an external site, MUSICA ET MEMORIA. The cover sheet of this score:

Gems of Foreign Song: A Collection of German, French and Italian Songs and Duets : with English Translation (White, Smith & Company, 1881), pp. 200-201.
First verse only in English and French. English lyrics attributed to J. S. Dwight, music by A. Adam.

Christmas_Song-Dwight-Gems_Foreign_Songs-200.jpg (128392 bytes) Christmas_Song-Dwight-Gems_Foreign_Songs-201.jpg (111940 bytes)

Instrumental Musical Setting of "Christmas Song (Cantique de NoŽl)", A. Adam, by Le Baron from Oliver Ditson & C., Boston, 1882,
Source: The Library of Congress, Music for a Nation: American Sheet Music, 1870-1885.

LeBaron-Christmas_Song-1882_002.gif (32304 bytes) LeBaron-Christmas_Song-1882_003.gif (41257 bytes) LeBaron-Christmas_Song-1882_004.gif (38943 bytes) LeBaron-Christmas_Song-1882_005.gif (41862 bytes) LeBaron-Christmas_Song-1882_006.gif (41680 bytes) LeBaron-Christmas_Song-1882_007.gif (41819 bytes) LeBaron-Christmas_Song-1882_008.gif (37961 bytes)

Sheet Music "Christmas Hymn (O Holy Night)," Adolphe Adam
Arrangement by W. F. Sudds, 1883
Source: The Library of Congress, Music for a Nation: American Sheet Music, 1870-1885.

Two verses. The lyrics are from J. S. Dwight, but there is no mention of his name in the sheet music.

Musical Setting "O Night Divine (Christmas Song)," Adolphe Adam, by H. P. Danks, New York, 1885,
Source: The Library of Congress, Music for a Nation: American Sheet Music, 1870-1885.

O_Night_Divine-Danks-1885-002.gif (36174 bytes) O_Night_Divine-Danks-1885-003.gif (40972 bytes) O_Night_Divine-Danks-1885-004.gif (38868 bytes) O_Night_Divine-Danks-1885-005.gif (35807 bytes)

Musical Setting "Christmas Song (Cantique Noel)," Adolphe Adam, from Edgar S. Werner, ed., Werner's Magazine: A Journal of Expression-Vocal and Physical, Vol. XVI, No. 12, December, 1894, New York, pp. 411-414.

o_holy-werners-411-1894.jpg (83501 bytes) o_holy-werners-412-1894.jpg (87941 bytes) o_holy-werners-413-1894.jpg (113770 bytes) o_holy-werners-414-1894.jpg (82294 bytes)

Sheet Music from Rev. Charles Lewis Hutchins, Carols Old and Carols New (Boston: Parish Choir, 1916), Carol #741

O_Holy_Night_741a.gif (338309 bytes) O_Holy_Night_741b.gif (330488 bytes) O_Holy_Night_741c.gif (333832 bytes) O_Holy_Night_741d.gif (305660 bytes)

A Musical Setting by A. E. Heacox of Adolphe Adam in R. P. Jameson and A. E. Heacox, eds., Chants de France (Boston: D. C. Heath & Co, 1922), p. 124-128.

cantique pour noel-124.jpg (91024 bytes) cantique pour noel-125.jpg (81993 bytes) cantique pour noel-126.jpg (69910 bytes) cantique pour noel-127.jpg (76579 bytes) cantique pour noel-128.jpg (41339 bytes)

The Choral Public Domain Library (CPDL) has a number of arrangements at their site in English, French and Portuguese; see O Holy Night.

Musical Setting "Cantique de Noel" (O Holy Night) by Douglas Brooks-Davies, 2002, Distributed under the terms of the CPDL license.


See A Garritan Community Christmas for MP3s:
O Holy Night, Leif Chappelle
O' Holy Night, Daniel Kury


A second version of this carol can be found at Wikipedia: O Holy Night (; accessed February 4, 2007). Neither the translator nor the source were stated.

O Holy Night - Cantique de NoŽl:
 Kantik' de Noel'
in Esperanto! by Gene Keyes

An Additional 6 Christmas Carols by Gene at Jula Karolaro

Plus 148 Christmas Carols in Esperanto at Kristnaskaj Kantoj

Editor's Notes:

This carol has been heralded as among the most beautiful of all Christmas carols, with excellent lyrics and a superb melody.

The author of the lyrics was Placide Cappeau (1808-1877), a resident of Roquemaure, located a few miles north of the historic city of Avignon. He was a commissionaire of wines, and an occasional writer of poetry. It is said that Cappeau was about to embark upon a business trip to Paris when the local parish priest asked Cappeau to write a Christmas poem. On December 3, 1847, about halfway to Paris, Cappeau received the inspiration for the poem, "Minuit, Chrťtiens."

Note: I've again received an email concerning the spelling of M. Cappeau's last name. Some authoritative sources give "Cappeau." Other equally authoritative sources give "Clappeau." I will, again, research this issue. In the meantime, here is a biographical note (in French) of M. Cappeau and a note concerning the music to this carol by M. Adam  (also in French).

According to William Studwell, when Cappeau arrived in Paris, he took the poem to the composer Adolphe Adam (1803-1856), an acquaintance of M. and Madam Laurey who were friends of Cappeau. Adam was at the peak of his career, having written his masterpiece, Giselle, only a few years before, in 1841. He was also the composer of over 80 stage works. Adam wrote the tune in a few days, and the song received its premier at the midnight mass on Christmas Eve 1847 in Roquemaure.

Notwithstanding its intrinsic beauty and initial success, the song was later attacked by churchmen in Cappeau's native France. The reason was not because of the nature or subject of the song.  Rather, the attacks were based on the reputations of the lyricist and composer.  Late in his life, Cappeau was described as a social radical, a freethinker, a socialist, and a non-Christian. Indeed, he adopted some of the more extreme political and social views of his era, such as opposition to inequality, slavery, injustice, and other kinds of oppression. In our own age of strategic PR thinking, where people are masters in communication that doesn't always address these issues, it's good to remember charity, kindness and the awe described in this song.

And it was falsely alleged that the composer, Adolphe Adam, was Jewish.3 That, plus his reputation as a composer of light operatic works and ballets, was deemed incompatible by those churchmen with the composition of a Christian religious song. One French bishop denounced the song for its "lack of musical taste and total absence of the spirit of religion."

John Sullivan DwightFortunately, more rational perspectives have prevailed. By 1855, the carol had been published in London, and has been translated into many languages. The best known English translation is "O Holy Night," authored by John Sullivan Dwight (1813-1893), a Unitarian minister and American music critic and journalist who made his home at the Transcendentalist community of Brook Farm, MA. It has been reported that this translation was first published 18554 in his Page 1 from the October 7, 1954 edition of Dwight's "Journal Of Music"Journal of Music, and was reprinted in songbooks of the period. Further research indicates that it might have been published in April, 1858, by the J. H. Hidley Company, a music publisher in Albany, New York. That research is continuing.

Interestingly, it is rarely found in modern hymnals. In my modest collection of about three dozen, it is only found in three hymnals (one of which was a significant alteration of Dwight's translation; see John W. Peterson and Norman Johnson, compilers, Praise! Our Songs and Hymns. Singspiration Music of the Zondervan Corporation, Grand Rapids, MI., 1982, Hymn #183, "O Holy Night," revised by Avis B. Christiansen, copyright 1975, 1979).

Cappeau's strongly abolitionist views are said to have influenced aspects of his free translation, including

Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother,
And in His name all oppression shall cease.

It is interesting that Dwight, like Cappeau, held strong anti-slavery views. By coincidence, Christmas became a legal holiday in Massachusetts the same year as it is believed that Dwight purportedly published his translation. A fuller biography by John Robinson of Dwight can be found at the Unitarian Universalist Historical Society (UUHS): Biography of John Sullivan Dwight (; accessed February 4, 2007). This biography has an excellent bibliography.

An additional translation of Cantique de NoŽl can be found at Wikipedia: O Holy Night (; accessed February 4, 2007). The first line is "O! Holy night! The stars, their gleams prolonging." The name of the translator is not stated.

Another free English translation of Cantique de NoŽl can be found at Cantique de NoŽl ( ; accessed February 4, 2007). There is also this free adaptation by H. P. Danks: O Night Divine.

Franco-Prussian War

There is an unsubstantiated (but frequently repeated) story that this carol figured prominently on Christmas Eve, 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War. The story goes that, unexpectedly, a French soldier jumped out of his trench and sang Cantique de NoŽl. Moved by the song, the Germans did not fire upon the French soldier, and inspired by the sentiment, a German soldier emerged from his trench and sang Luther's Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her, a popular Christmas hymn from his country ("From Heaven Above To Earth I Come"). The beautiful Austrian carol, Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!, was also reportedly sung by soldiers in trenches on both sides.

A similar exchange would occur during World War I on Christmas Eve, 1914. See: A Carol from Flanders.

First Radio Broadcast of 1906

This carol had the distinction of being the first one ever played live on a Christmas radio broadcast. That first broadcast was conducted by Canadian Reginald Fessenden (1866-1931) from his Brant Rock, Massachusetts station to ships at sea on December 24, 1906, with the assistance of his wife Helen, his secretary Miss Bent and his associate Mr. Stein.

At 9 p.m., Fessenden began his broadcast playing Handel's "Largo" (presumably from his opera Serse or Xerxes) on an Ediphone phonograph. He then played Gounod's "O Holy Night" on his violin, singing the last verse as he played.  Finally, he read a selection from the book of Luke: "Glory to God in the highest ó and on earth peace to men of good will." Originally, Miss Brant and Mrs. Fessenden were to read the selection; stage fright, however, intervened. The group completed the broadcast by wishing their listeners a Merry Christmas and then saying that they proposed to broadcast again New Year's Eve.

The Christmas program was picked up as far south as Norfolk, Virginia; when the program was repeated on New Year's Eve, it was heard as far away as the West Indies.


3. Doubts have been cast on this allegation. It has been reported that the funeral notice for M. Adam stated that "Les obsŤques de M. Adolphe Adam auront lieu lundi 5 mai, ŗ 11 heures, en l'ťglise de Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, sa paroisse." ("The funeral of Mr. Adolphe Adam will take place Monday, May 5, [at 11 AM] in the church of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, his parish."). See and M. Adolphe Adam. Return

4. I spent the afternoon of February 3, 2007, going through a microfiche of all issues of the Journal Of Music from October 7, 1854 through March 29, 1856, but was unable to locate any reference to this carol. Again on February 5, I reviewed all issues published between those dates (ensuring that no issues or pages were omitted), and found no reference to "O Holy Night" or "Cantique de NoŽl." I believe that I can definitively say that the translation was not published in that time frame.

Subsequently, I found a reference to publication by Dwight in 1857. By July, 2013, the Journal of Music had been scanned and put online (both at Google Books and at the Internet Archive). I searched the years 1856-1858, without finding the lyrics. These same volumes were searched again in November, 2013, again without success.

What I did find was a listing on a web page at the U.S. Library of Congress that noted that an arrangement with the title of "Christmas Song" was copyright in 1858 by J. H. Hidley in Albany, NY, words by Dwight and Music by Adam. See Greatest Hits: 1850-1860 (accessed August 7, 2007). No scan of the sheet music was available.

If first publication of this sheet music was in 1858, I suspect that that is the first publication of Dwight's "translation."

A final hint was "a snippet" that (possibly) indicated that publication occurred on March 22, 1858, with a notice printed on p. 307 of The Musical World, Saturday, April 3, 1858. The scanned copy of Volume 36 of The Musical World did not include this issue (it skipped from late March to April 17th). The snippet was from Barbara Zakrzewska-Nikiporczyk, et. al., Monatschrift FŁr Theater und Musik 1855-1865: Calendar, Volume 2, Dwightś Journal of Music, 1852-1881, University of Maryland at College Park. Center for Studies in Nineteenth-Century Music (U.M.I., 1991); ISBN 9780835720847. I will attempt to get this volume on interlibrary loan, and update this note.

The earliest advertisement for this song by the publisher J. H. Hidley that I have found was in 1860 in the New York Musical Review and Gazette, Vol. XI, No. 2, Saturday, January 21, 1860, p. 26.

Another researcher, John Rudy, wrote that he found a similar advertisement in December, 1859, also in The New York Musical Review and Gazette. See: Merry Christmas from a Land of Hope and Sorrow. Return

Public Domain Recordings:

General Sources:

Sources for information about the Christmas Eve Broadcast of 1906:

Print Page Return Home Page Close Window

If you would like to help support Hymns and Carols of Christmas, please click on the button below and make a donation.