The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Specimens of Old Christmas Carols

Selected from Manuscripts and Printed Books

Thomas Wright, The Percy Society,  1841


The object of the following Collection is to illustrate one of our old popular customs, which is fast disappearing. It was suggested that it should be made a seasonable publication; and the desire to publish it at the given time has necessarily restricted a little the extent of the Editor's researches. He has found also that the remains of this class of literature are not so numerous as might have been expected.

The Anglo-Saxon Gule or Yule, was an ancient Pagan festival, from which we derive the feasting and merriment still observed at the same season of the year. When the Anglo-Saxons were converted, the feasting and other observations were turned to another purpose, and were made to be considered a memorial of the nativity of our Saviour, the commemoration of which happened at the same time. The name of Yule still remained, and in some parts of our island has been preserved to the present day; but after the entry of the Normans, a foreign appellation was introduced, -- Noel, derived from the Latin natalis (the dies natalis of our Lord), which soon became naturalised in our language and literature.*

Our carols illustrate the festive character, as well as the pious feelings, appropriate to the season. The Anglo-Norman song which stands first, is the earliest carol known to have been written in our island. It has been printed before, but it is now carefully edited from the original manuscript. The late Mr. Douce translated it into English verse; but as his version does not preserve a single characteristic of the original, it has been thought unnecessary to reprint it here. Another French carol has been inserted, as a specimen of similar compositions among our neighbours. Several carols in our Collection illustrate the fine old ceremony of bring in the boar's head, and other Christmas festivities. A Few pieces have been introduced which are not strictly carols, but which are more or less connected with the subject. Three modern carols are added at the end, taken from the Collection of Sandys, to show how long the expressions and allusions of the older carols have been preserved by popular tradition. The only desire of the Editor is to contribute towards the merry Christmas of the members of the Percy Society.


December 1841

Wright's Note:

* In our carols these names appear in different forms: as §ol, yol, nowel, novels, &c. It may here be observed that in the first line of the poem beginning on p. 18 [Yf Crystmas day on the Sonday be], a later hand has corrected Sunday to Monday. Return

Editor's Note: Wright was also the editor of Songs and Carols Now First Printed From a Manuscript of the Fifteenth Century (1847).

Index of Carols

Editor's Note: 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.

1. Seignors Ore Entendez └ Nus

2. The boris hede in hond I bryng

3. Wolcum be thu, hevene kyng

4. Blyssid be that mayde Maryy

5. Jhesu, as thou art our savyour

6. Mary moder, meke and mylde

7. A new §er! a new §er! a chyld was i-born

8. Mary moder, cum and se

9. In this tyme Cryst hast us sent

10. In this tyme a chyld was born

11. A babe is born al of a may

12. This tyme is born a chyld ful go

13. Nowel el bothe eld and 3yng

14. The ferste day of yol we han in mynde

15. Yf Crystmas day on the Sonday be

16. Lordynges, I warne yow al be-forn

17. Now ye Crystemas y-cum

18. The bores heed in hande bring I - Version 2

19. The Boar's Head In Hand Bear I - Thomas Wright

20. A Christemasse Game, made by Maister Benet Howe

21. When Cryst was born of Mary fre

22. Be glad, lordynges, be ye more and lesse

23. Seaventh chapter of Isai

24. As said the prophet Abacue

25. There was no deathe nor worldlie joie [A Caroll of Saint Stephen]

26. Man to redeme and not angell

27. God against nature thre wonders haith wrought

28. The golden tyme ys nowe at hande

29. A bonne! God wote!

30. The second person in TrinitiÚ

31. The borys hede that we bryng here

32. I am here, syre Crystesmass

33. Mervele no§t, Josep, on Mary mylde

34. Profate, welcome, wellecome!

35. Jhesu of a mayde thou woldest be borne

36. Man be mery I the rede

37. Of Mary Criste was bore

38. O blesse God in TrinitÚ!

39. Now make we joy in this feste

40. In Betheleem, that noble place

41. Noel Nouveau [First line: CÚlÚbrons la naissance]

42. The Boare is dead

43. So, Now Is Come Our Joyfulst Feast

44. All You That In This House Be Here

45. Now Thrice Welcome Christmas

46. Now That The Time Is Come

47. A Child This Day Is Born [from Sandys, alt.]

48. The first Nowell the Angell did say [from Sandys, The First Nowell]

49. Come rejoice, all good Christians [from Sandys, Come Rejoice, All Good Christians]

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