The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern

William Sandys

London: Richard Beckley, 1833


Christmas Play of Saint George

Excerpts from his introduction concerning
Twelfth Day Ceremonies

The Three Kings

Note: Some of the earliest carols were composed in Middle English, which in some cases bears little resemblance to modern English (or even "American"). In these cases, I have not attempted to translate the original into modern English (as I have no facility with Middle English).  As much as possible, I have retyped the originals as I found them. 

Because Middle English contains letters not found in modern English, I've used a special font, "Junicode" created by Professor Peter S. Baker, Professor of English, University of Virginia on some pages.  I will note on the individual carol's page which ones need this font. You can obtain a copy of this font from his website Old English at the University of Virginia (select "Windows TrueType," or right click here, and then select "Save File As" to save a copy of the zipped file to your computer).  This font must be downloaded and installed before these pages will display accurately.

Some special characters — especially for the letter "s" — are not contained in Dr. Baker's font.   When a change to the modern letter has been made, I will italicize the letter. See the sample below for some characters which occur in Sandys.

Many of these carols contain archaic spellings of modern words.  I have not undertaken to make any corrections to modern usage, so that you can see the original as Sandys reproduced it.

Some Old and Middle English resources:

This Table of Contents is in the same order as originally printed.  Click here for a Table of Contents where each of the Parts has been sorted in alphabetical order.

Ancient Carols and Christmas Songs,
From the Early Part of the Fifteenth to
The End of the Seventeenth Century.

Nay iuy, nay, hyt shall not be, I wys (A Song of the Ivy and the Holly), 1

When cryst was born of mary free, 2

Wolcu zol thu mery ma, 3

Seyt steuene was a clerk, 4

Blyssid be yt mayde mary, 6

Mary modr, meke & mylde, 7

God sent his Aungell Gabriell, 8

This endnes nyght I sawe a syght (A, My Dere Son), 11

Meruele nozt, iosep, on Mary mylde, 13

Proface, welcom, well come, 14

Jhesu of a mayde yu woldest be born, 15

The borys hede that we bryng here, 16

I am here, syre cristsmasse, 17

Herode yt was both wylde & wode, 18

The bores heed in hand bring I, 19

In Betheleem, that noble place, 20

Lordes and ladyes all by dene, 21

Marke this songe, for it is trewee, 23

I come from heuin to tell, 27

Now let vs sing with joy and mirth, 30

My sweet little babie, 32

Immortal Babe, who this dear day, 34

Sweet Musicke, sweeter farre, 35 (The Shepherd's Song)

The Boare is dead, 37 (On Bringing Boar's Head, Used Before Christmas Prince, At St. John Baptist's College, Oxford, Christmas, 1607)

I sing the birth was born to-night, 38 (An Hymn On The Nativity Of My Saviour)

Now, now the mirth comes (Alternate Title: Twelfe Night, Or King and Queene), 39

In numbers, and but these few, 41 (An Ode Of The Birth Of Our Saviour)

Tell us, thou cleere and heavenly tongue, 42 (The Star-Song; A Caroll To The King. Sung At Whitehall.)

Give way, give way, ye gates, and win, 44 (The Wassaile)

So, now is come our joyful'st feast, 46 (A Christmas Carrol By George Wither)

A jolly wassel bowl, 50 (A Carrol For A Wassel-Bowl, To be sung upon Tweofth-Day at Night)

All you that to feasting and mirth are inclined, 53 (Old Christmas Returned, or, Hospitality Revived)

The ferste joye as i zu telle (Joyis Fyve), 53

One God, one Baptisme, and one Fayth (A New Dyall), 59

A Selection From Carols
Still Used In The West Of England


Note from Mr. Sandys:


"The carols contained in the Second Part, with the exception of the last four, are selected from upwards of one hundred obtained in different parts of the West of Cornwall, many of which, including those now published, are still in use. Some few of them are printed occasionally in the country, and also in London, Birmingham, and other places, as broadside carols; others have appeared, with some variation, in Mr. Gilbert's collection, having been derived from similar sources; but a large portion, including some of the most curious, have, I believe, never been printed before."


Editor's Note:

The reference to "Mr. Gilbert's collection" are to two volumes of Christmas carols published by Davies Gilbert:

  • Some Ancient Christmas Carols (with the tunes to which they were formerly sung in the West of England), 1822 (which contained 8 carols), and

  • Some Ancient Christmas Carols, Second Edition, 1823 (which contained 12 additional carols)

For more information, see Richard R. Terry, Gilbert and Sandys' Christmas Carols, Erik Routley, The English Carol, pp. 81+, and William E. Studwell and Dorothy E. Jones, Publishing Glad Tidings, pp. 7+.


A Virgin most pure, as the Prophets do tell, 61

A Child this day is born, 63

The Lord at first had Adam made, 67 (For Christmas Eve)

The Angel Gabriel from God, 69

When righteous Joseph wedded was, 71

The first Nowell, the Angel did say, 74 (For Christmas Day In The Morning)

When Caesar Augustus had raised a taxation, 76

Joseph being an aged man, 78

When Augustus Caesar throughout, 81

All you that are to mirth inclined, 84

This new Christmas Carrol, 87

Augustus Caesar having brought, 91

When God at first created man, 95

Come rejoice, all good Christians, 99

God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen, 102

When Adam first in Paradise, 104

Remember, O thou Man, 106

To-morrow shall be my dancing day, 110

I saw three ships come sailing in, 112

When old Father Jacob was ready to die, 114

God bless the master of this house, 115 (The Saviour Of All People)

Upon Christmas Day in the morning, 117

Come behold the Virgin Mother, 119

There is a Child born of our blessed Virgin, 122 (Gloria Tibi Domine)

Joseph was an old Man, 123

Saint John, Saint John, was Christ’s disciple, 126

When bloody Herod reigned king, 128 (For Saint John The Baptist)

When Jesus Christ was twelve years old, 130

One God there is, of wisdom, glory, might, 133 (Man's Duty; or, Meditation for the Twelve Hours of the Day)

In those twelve days, 135

When Herod in Jerusalem, 138 (For Innocents' Day)

Saint Stephen was an holy man, 140

Hark the herald Angels sing, 143 (For Christmas Day)

Hark, Hark I what news the Angels bring, 145

Whilst Shepherds watch'd their flocks by night, 147

Hail! ever hail! auspicious morn, 148

As it fell out one May morning, 148 (The Holy Well)

As I pass’d by a river side, 152 (A Carnal and the Crane)

The first good joy our Mary had, 157 (Joys Seven)

The Moon shines bright and the Stars give light, 159

Specimens of French Provincial Carols

L'An mil sies cens quaranto cinc, 161

Guillô, pran ton tamborin, 163

Lon de la gran carriere, 164

Célébrons la Naissance, 167

Quand Dieu naquit à Noël, 170

Venés veire din l’estable172




Tunes From Sandys

Concerning the 18 tunes which were appended, Sandys wrote:

"The Tunes are of a pleasing and plaintive nature, and most of them appear to be of considerable antiquity. In No. 3 will be found a specimen of the old minor key, with a flat seventh at the close; the scale is founded on one of the old Grecian modes, having the flat seventh ascending and descending, and was varied by the introduction of the more modern minor key, as far back, probably, as the 15th century. It appears harsh to modern ears, which expect the g sharp.

"No. 6 is of simple construction, almost a chant. No. 11, according to tradition, has been known for three hundred years back. No. 9 is very similar to one of the old Shakspearian tunes, "There lived a man in Babylon." Nos. 14 and 15 are inserted to show the manner in which the carol-singers sing in parts. Nos. 16 and 17 are examples of French carol tunes, both in a minor key, and apparently old. No. 18 is a tune, which I have been informed by the lady who furnished me with it, has been handed down as the appropriate one for the old ballad of "Lord Thomas and fair Elinor." I have therefore introduced it, though not a regular carol tune, from its probable antiquity.

"Although the tunes are appropriated in this selection to particular carols, they are not confined to them, but some favourite ones are sung to various sets of words. As it would have encumbered the work to have printed a greater number, I may, from the difference of taste in these matters, have omitted some, more prized by the singers, but I have endeavoured to bring forward the best."

Click here for the Tunes From Sandys

Concerning Number 18, Erik Routley wrote that "Sandys entitles the tune 'Lord Thomas' but gives no words to it" in his notes to the carol, Oh, Who Would Be A Shepherd Boy? (University Carol Book, Brighton: H. Freeman & Co., 1961, Carol #30, page 42). The same lyrics are found in Richard R. Terry, Gilbert and Sandys' Christmas Carols (London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne, Ltd., 1931).

Christmas Play of Saint George

Compare the Christmas plays from William Sandys, Christmas-tide Its History, Festivities and Carols, With Their Music (London: John Russell Smith, 1852):

A Mock Play

Christmas Play of St. George and the Dragon

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