7 Beloved Christmas Carols & Their Origins
(Last Updated On: December 22, 2020)


7 Beloved Christmas Carols & Their Origins – People feel the Christmas spirit in many different ways. For some, putting up the tree fills their heart with joy. Others love giving presents to all their loved ones. Some people choose to spend as much time with family over the holiday season. However, most would agree that Christmas would not be complete without music. For years, Christmas carols have been instrumental in spreading Christmas cheer.

Here we explore 7 Beloved Christmas Carols & Their Origins. The author may have even been humming them or listening to them while writing the article.

1. Silent Night

Joseph Mohr, a young priest in Austria, wrote the words to “Silent Night” in 1816. The Napoleonic Wars had just ended in 1815. The priest had gone out for a walk just before writing the song. As he walked, he realized the town was finally at peace. Have you ever gone for a walk after a freshly fallen snowfall? It can bring about a peaceful experience. Read more about the Mohr’s inspirational walk following the Napoleonic Wars.  Sometime later, Franz Xaver Gruber, a choir director, wrote the melody for the song. Mohr and Gruber performed “Silent Night” for the first time to Austrian villagers on Christmas Eve in 1818.

2. The Little Drummer Boy

While this Christmas carol isn’t as old as some of the other ones, it is one of the most popular. It’s believed that classical music composer Katherine K. Davis wrote “The Little Drummer Boy.” She wrote the song in 1941, basing it on an old Czech carol. The original title of the Christmas carol was “Carol of the Drums.” Co-writing credits also go to composers Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone, who wrote some of the lyrics.

3. O Holy Night

The next song on the list of 7 Beloved Christmas Carols & Their Origins takes us to France. French composer and music critic Adolphe Adam wrote “O Holy Night” in 1847. Adam initially set the music to a French poem called “Midnight, Christians.” While he wrote many operas and ballets, “O Holy Night” remains one of his most popular works. In 1855, Unitarian minister John Sullivan Dwight translated the carol from French to English.

4. Joy to the World

You might be surprised to know that “Joy to the World” was not written as a Christmas carol. In 1719, Isaac Watts wrote the lyrics as a poem. He based the lyrics on Psalm 98. Watts was an English poet and United Methodist clergyman. Years later, the famous German composer, George Frederic Handel, revised some of the lyrics. Boston music educator, Lowell Mason, collaborated on the song as well. Mason receives credit for making “Joy to the World” popular in the United States. Though not intended for the holidays, the song has become the most-published Christmas carol in North America.

5. Away In a Manger

No one knows for sure who wrote “Away In a Manger.” Some hymnologists believe German Lutherans in Pennsylvania composed the song in 1885. Two American composers, William J. Kirkpatrick and James Ramsey Murray, are credited for coming up with the arrangement we know today.

6. The First Noel

This Christmas carol dates back to the 13th or 14th century. During this time, people in Europe conducted Miracle Plays. These plays are dramatizations of favorite Bible stories for the holidays. During these plays, people made up poems they could sing. This is how “The First Noel” came about. “Noel” comes from the French word for Christmas.

In 1823, an Englishman named Davies Gilbert became concerned that Christmas carols were dying out. To help preserve the tradition, he created a collection of songs and called it, Some Ancient Christmas Carols. He included a version of “The First Noel.” Ten years later, Englishman William Sandys started his own collection of Christmas carols. He called his collection Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern. Sandys also included a version of “The First Noel.” Every version of the song since has been based upon the one found in Sandys’ collection.

7. Mary Did You Know

Mark Lowry, a Christian singer and songwriter, began to pen the words to “Mary Did You Know” in 1984. It wasn’t until 1991 that the lyrics were put to music. Lowry had asked his friend, Buddy Green, to write suitable music for his poem. Green completed the musical setting in just 30 minutes. American Christian singer and producer, Michael English, was the first to record this modern Christmas carol.

All season long, Christmas carols keep us in the holiday spirit. While we only explored 7 Beloved Christmas Carols & Their Origins, there are many more. Do you know where your favorite Christmas song came from? It might be fun to find out!

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