The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

When Christ Was Born In Bethlehem

For Advent & Christmas

Words: Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, Canzone D'l Zampognari (Quanno nascette Ninno a Bettelemme)

Translation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  (1807–1882)
Identified as "One of the Neapolitan Pastorali de’ Zampognari."

Music: W. F. Taylor
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF

Source: The Complete Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1893),
Appendix II. Unacknowledged and Uncollected Translations, p.
(The link above is to


When Christ In Bethlehem Was Born (Marvin, 1902)

Carol of the Bagpipers ("When Christ our Lord was Born at Bethlehem Afar", Baker, 1904)

"On That Most Blessed Night" (Bagpiper's Carol). Oberndorfer, 1932

Contrast: When Christ Was Born In Bethlehem (Housman, 1906)

1. When Christ was born in Bethlehem,
’T was night, but seemed the noon of day;
The stars, whose light
Was pure and bright,
Shone with unwavering ray;
But one, one glorious star
Guided the Eastern Magi from afar.

2. Then peace was spread throughout the land.
The lion fed beside the tender lamb;
And with the kid,
To pasture led,
The spotted leopard fed;
In peace, the calf and bear,
The wolf and lamb reposed together there.

3. As shepherds watched their flocks by night
An angel, brighter than the sun’s own light,
Appeared in air,
And gently said,
Fear not,—be not afraid,
For lo! beneath your eyes,
Earth has become a smiling paradise.

Sheet Music by W.F. Taylor from Rev. Charles Lewis Hutchins, Carols Old and Carols New (Boston: Parish Choir, 1916), Carol 678.

When_Christ_Was_Born_678.gif (361453 bytes)

Sheet Music by Ebenezer Beesley (1840-1906), from Deseret Sunday School Songs, #221 (1909)

Sheet music by Beesley from the 1927 Mormon hymnal, Latter-day Saint Hymns

Also found in

The Beesley arrangement was the $25 prize winner in a Christmas Carol competition sponsored by the Deseret Evening News in December, 1900, and was published in the Evening News on December 15, 1900. It was performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on December 23, 1900. It also appeared in Deseret Sunday School Songs (Salt Lake City: Deseret Sunday School Union, 1900). The sheet music above is from the 1909 edition, hymn #221, and from the 1927 Mormon hymnal. It has also been published in the 1948 (#295) edition of the Mormon hymnal, Hymns, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Mr. Beesley was a prolific composer and lyricist for the Mormon church. For additional information about this hymn and Mr. Beesley, see this article at the online blog, Keepapitchinin.

This carol should not be confused with the one of the same name written by Laurence Housman, 1906: When Christ Was Born In Bethlehem.

Another "A Christmas Carol" poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was based on a poem from the Naples region of Italy, "Bourguignon De Gui Barozai". It's first line is "I hear along our street."

This translation was featured in an article in the North American Review (Vol. 35, No. 77) titled "History of the Italian Language and Dialects," pp. 283-342 (October, 1932). The Italian texts were from Saggi di Prose e Poesie de' piu celebri Scrittori d'ogni Secolo. VI. vol., 8vo., selected by Professors L. Nardini and S. Buonaiuti (London, 1798). The link above is to the copy found at the Library of Congress. The volume is also available at Google Books, as are volumes 1-2 and 5-6 of Saggi di Prose e Poesie.

This article discussed 17 major dialects of Italian. They wrote:

The Neapolitan is one of the master-dialects of Italy. In its train it counts several under-dialects, such as the Pugliese or Apulian, the Sabine, and that of the island of Capri. Even in Naples, the different quarters of the city are marked by different jargons, though it is not to be supposed that these subdivisions exhibit any varieties so striking as to diminish the universal sway of Puicineila, or to prevent that monarchs voice from being understood in every nook and corner of his own peculiar dominion. ... We select our illustrations of the Neapolitan dialect from among the popular songs of the country.

The third extract was the Pastorale de Zampognari:

The next extract will exhibit the dialect of the Neapolitan peasantry It is a Pastorale de Zampognari, one of those little rural hymns, which the zamjpognari or pipers from the Abruzzi and Calabrian mountains sing before the images of the Virgin at the corners of the streets in Rome and Naples, at the season of Advent, accompanied by the sound of their rustic bagpipes.

The Italian text was:

1. Quanno nascette Ninno a Bettelemme,
Era notte e parea mmiezo juorno!
Maje le stelle
Lustere e belle
Se vedettero accussì!
La chiù lucente
Jette a chiammà li Magi, in Oriente.

2. No n'cerano nemice ppe la terra,
La pecora pascea co lo lione,
Co le crapette
Se vedette
Lo liopardo pazzia:
L'urzo e o vitiello,
E co lu lupo 'npace u pecoriello.

3. Guardavano le pecore li pastore;
E l'angelo, sbrennente chiù de lu sole,
E le dicette:
Nò ve spaventate, nò!
Contento e riso:
La terra è arrenventata Paradiso!

The English translation was substantially the same as that found above by Longfellow (although there was no attribution in the article to the poet). See: "History of the Italian Language and Dialects." The North American Review. Volume 35, Issue 77, October 1832, pages 283-342.

The original Italian carol contained 24 verses. See: Quanno nascette Ninno at Da Wikipedia, l'enciclopedia libera. The San Francisco Bach Choir performed Quanno Nascette Ninno in one of its Christmas concerts; the program gave three Italian verses with literal English translation.

There are numerous YouTube videos available of performances of this carol.

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