The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks

For Christmas

Version 2 - William Sandys, 1833

Alternate Titles:
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night
The Vision Of The Shepherds

Words: Nahum Tate, 17001; first appeared in Tate and Brady’s Supplement, 1700.

Music: "Christmas," George Frederick Handel, 1728; arranged in Harmonia Sacra, 1812,
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Alternate Tunes: "Winchester Old" and numerous others.
Meter: CM

Source: William Sandys, Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (London: Richard Beckley, 1833), pp.147-8.

1. Whilst shepherds watched their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel2 of the Lord came down,
And glory shone around.3

2. Fear not, said he, for mighty dread
Had seized their troubled mind.
Glad tidings of great joy I bring
To you and all mankind.4

3. To you, in David's town, this day
Is born of David's line
A5 Saviour, which is Christ the Lord,
And this shall be the sign.

4. The heavenly Babe you there shall find
To human view displayed,
All meanly wrapped6 in swaddling bands,7
And in a manger laid.

5. Thus spake the Seraph, and forthwith
Appeared a heavenly throng7a
Of Angels praising God and thus,
Addressed their joyful song.8

6. All glory be to God on high,
And to the earth be peace;9
Good will henceforth from heaven to earth10
Begin and never cease!

1. One  source gives the year as 1702, although this seems erroneous. Return

2. Or: angels Return

3. The Irons arrangement repeats the last two lines. However, in Sandys and some other versions, the repetition of the last line is omitted in all verses. The Howard arrangement omits the repetition, but merges the first and second verses, the third and fourth verses, and the fifth and sixth verses. Return

4. Or: To all of humankind. Return

5. Or: The Return

6. Or: wrapt Return

7. Or: swathing; Pronounced "sway-thing" Return

7a. Or: a  shining throng. Return

8. Or: Of angels praising God, on high,
 Who thus addressed their song

9. Or: And on earth be peace Return

10. Or: men Return

Sheet Music "Angel's Carol" by J. Clarke from O. Hardwig, ed., The Wartburg Hymnal (Chicago: Wartburg Publishing House, 1918), #119

Sheet Music "Bethlehem" by G. W. Fink from O. Hardwig, ed., The Wartburg Hymnal (Chicago: Wartburg Publishing House, 1918), #120

Editor's Note: Sandys included no sheet music for this carol. For additional settings, see While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks - Version 1 (Davies, 1822).


Copies of this carol on this web site include:

Also found in Joshua Sylvester, A Garland of Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern (London: John Camden Hotten, 1861), pp. 120-121, who had this note:

This piece enjoys great popularity in the rural districts. In the West it is frequently to be met with in the local Hymnbooks. It is probably not older than the last century.

Note that Hugh Keyte, an editor of The New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992) believes that "Joshua Sylvester" is a pseudonym for a collaboration between William Sandys (1792-1874) and William Henry Husk (1814-1887). See Appendix 4.

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"Christmas," George Frederick Handel, 1728

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks
The "Christmas" Arrangement by Handel

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