Archives for posts with tag: It Came Upon A Midnight Clear

It’s been said that music can transport our minds to days gone by. Certainly, the songs we sing at Christmas time prove all of this to be true. When I hear the Christmas carols, my mind is flooded with memories.

To enhance your appreciation of the Christmas carols I want to offer a little background information on a few of the favorites.

  • “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is probably one of our oldest carols. It is a traditional Christmas carol- actually an Advent song- dating back to the 12th century and follows a monastery-like chant. The lyrics were originally written in Latin. The author/composer is unknown. It is believed that the melody is of French origin

All of the attributions to the coming Messiah are from the Old Testament except “Emmanuel,” which is found both in Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23. Matthew quotes Isaiah virtually verbatim—“Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel”—with the exception that Matthew adds the phrase: “which being interpreted is, God with us.”

  • “Joy to the World” is based on a psalm and celebrates Christ’s second coming much more than the first. This favorite Christmas hymn is the result of a collaboration of at least three people and draws its initial inspiration not from the Christmas narrative in Luke 2, but from Psalm 98.

The three collaborators: In 1719 Isaac Watts wrote a paraphrase of Psalm 98 and included it in his hymnal, “Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament.” George Frederic Handel (1685-1759), the popular German-born composer, provided the musical phrases. Lowell Mason (1792-1872), a Boston music educator, assured that this tune and text would appear together in the United States.

  • “Silent Night” is one of two hymns (the other is The Old Rugged Cross) that were played for the first time on the guitar. A Catholic priest, Joseph Mohr, wrote “Stille Nacht” and because the organ at Father Mohr’s church was broken, he asked Franz Gruber to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for the Christmas Eve mass in 1818 at Oberndorf, a village near Salzburg, Austria.

Over the years, because the original manuscript had been lost, Mohr’s name was forgotten and although Gruber was known to be the composer, the melody was variously attributed to Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven. However, a manuscript was discovered in 1995 in Mohr’s handwriting and dated by researchers as c. 1820. This is the earliest manuscript that exists and the only one in Mohr’s handwriting.

  • “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”– In 1627, the English Puritan parliament abolished the celebration of Christmas and all other “worldly festivals.” For the remainder of the seventeenth century and well into the eighteenth, hymn carols were hard to come by, but there was an exception.

John and Charles Wesley had aroused the anger of the Anglican Church in England by their Armenian doctrine of “free grace.” However, because of a printer’s mistake, one of Charles’ poems was printed in the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer. The hymn, originally entitled “Hark, How All the Welkin Rings” with 10 verses, was actually Charles’ “Hymn for Christmas Day.” The church fathers weren’t too happy about it.

Although angered by Wesley’s inclusion in the prayer book, the church fathers concluded that at least the song would only be used once a year and would probably fade into oblivion.

  • “O Little Town of Bethlehem”- Phillips Brooks, Pastor of the Church of the Holy Trinity, in Philadelphia, visited the Holy Land on Christmas Eve 1865. In a letter dated Saturday, December 30, 1865, Phillips Brooks shared with his father what happened next: “After an early dinner, we took our horses and rode to Bethlehem. It was only about two hours when we came to the town. It is a good-looking town, better built than any other we have seen in Palestine. The great Church of the Nativity is its most prominent object; it is shared by the Greeks, Latins and Armenians.”

Under the Church of the Nativity there is a grotto and a 14-point silver star on marble stone which tradition says marks the place where Jesus was born. That Christmas Eve of 1865, Phillips Brooks wrote, “I was standing in the old church at Bethlehem, close to the spot where Jesus was born, when the whole church was ringing hour after hour with the splendid hymns of praise to God, how again and again it seemed as if I could hear voices that I knew well, telling each of the ‘Wonderful Night’ of the Saviour’s birth.” Brooks closed the letter by describing the horseback ride to a field outside Bethlehem where tradition says the shepherds first saw the star of Bethlehem.

Three years later, back in America, preparing the Christmas service for the Sunday School, he remembered that Christmas Eve in Bethlehem. From his mind’s eye, he would record this experience of standing in the fields surrounding the holy place and thinking of how it might have been that night when God sent forth His Son, born of a virgin, to a little town– the little town of Bethlehem

  • “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”- Edmund Sears was born on April 6, 1810, in Sandisfield, Massachusetts. He graduated from Union College in Schenectady, New York, received a doctor’s degree from Harvard and pastored three small churches in Wayland, Lancaster and Weston, Massachusetts. He died in 1876 and would have been forgotten by most except for one little detail.

In 1846, he penned a Christmas poem, entitled Peace on Earth, and put it in his desk where it would stay for the next three years. In 1849, he sent Peace on Earth to the publisher of Boston’s Christian Register. A year went by until finally, for Christmas of 1850, the poem was put in print. Richard Willis, a graduate of Yale and music critic for the New York Tribune added music.

There are many more songs of Christmas that bring back memories and inspire us and some very interesting stories about their origins. I hope that the music of Christmas will help to bring the Spirit of the Christ Child into your life and into the world.

Jamie Jenkins

The lights, nativity sets and all the decorations help me get into the spirit of the season but the music really plays an important part in my preparation for celebrating the birth of the Christ Child.

Singer Nat 'King' Cole and his daughter Natalie Cole pose for a portrait session in front of a Christmas tree in circa 1955

Nat King Cole and his daughter, c. 1955. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

One website ( listed “The Christmas Song” as the Number One song of the season. Co-written by singer Mel Torme, it was recorded at least three times by Nat King Cole, but the 1961 recording is often considered the best. Hearing “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” puts you in the mood for the winter holiday.Judy Garland, as Esther Smith, in "Meet Me In St Louis," 1944.

Another classic is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” sung by Judy Garland in the 1944 movie musical “Meet Me In St. Louis”. The filmmakers complained that in the first version, the song’s lyrics were too depressing and commissioned a rewrite that became the most popular interpretation.

Bing Crosby White Christmas

“White Christmas” introduced in the 1942 movie musical “Holiday Inn” won an Academy Award for Best Song From a Motion Picture. Bing Crosby’s version from the film has sold over 50 million copies. Little Drummer Boy was composed  by Katherine K. Davis in 1941. It was popularized in an arrangement by the Harry Simeone Chorale. An animated TV special was created based on the song’s story in 1968.



picture of rudolph red nosed reindeer - Digitally painted - JPG

Frosty the Snowman is another standard of the Christmas season. And you can’t leave out the story of Rudolph, Santa’s 9th reindeer, created by Montgomery Ward employee Robert L. May in 1939, adapted into song and turned into a hit by Gene Autry in 1949 and later by Burl Ives. Another standard is “Jingle Bells” which was first copyrighted under the title “One Horse Open Sleigh” in 1857. It has become one of the most popular Christmas songs around the world.

Brenda Lee Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree

There are many other songs that are popular but not among my favorites. Brenda Lee’s “”Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” (1958) and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” written in 1934 and first performed on the Eddie Cantor radio show, are among them.

Add to the list “All I Want for Christmas Is You” (1994), “Jingle Bell Rock” (1957), “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” (1978), “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” (1956), and “Blue Christmas” (1948) and you have more than enough “Christmas” music.

stock photo of silent night - Silent night in suburban setting - JPG

I can enjoy some of the songs listed above and tolerate others but the “real” sounds are Christmas are found in the Christmas carols like Silent Night, It is believed that Silent Night was first composed in German in 1816. The song was later translated into English and sung by both sides in the World War I Christmas truce due to the fact it was the primary Christmas carol that both German and British soldiers knew.

joy to the world, heard the bells on christmas day, vintage sheet music, christmas hymn, public domain christmas song, free sheet music graphic

I can’t imagine  Christmas without singing Joy to the World written by Isaac Watts using Scripture for the lyrics or O Holy Night composed in 1847. Another that must be sung during the period leading up to Christmas Day is It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, written by Unitarian pastor Edmund Sears in 1849.

Don’t forget Angels We Have Heard on High which originated as a French carol but was translated into the English version in the mid-1800’s. Surely you will also want to sing We Three Kings written by Reverend John Henry Hopkins, Jr. together for a Christmas pageant at New York’s General Theological Seminary in the mid-1800’s.

Printable Christmas songs; 'O Come All Ye Faithful' is the only song I know how to sing in Latin. I want to do a journal page about this at some point...

Any musical journey toward Christmas has to include Hark! The Herald Angels Sing written by Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley the founder of Methodism. The first publication date for the carol was 1739. One of the best known carols is O Come All Ye Faithful, dating to the mid-1700’s and is often performed in Latin as “Adeste Fidelis.”

The birth of Jesus occurred in a relatively small and unimportant town. After visiting the birthplace of the Christ Child in 1865, Episcopal priest Phillips Brooks was inspired to write the words to O Little Town of Bethlehem.

Okay, by now I hope you are whistling, humming, or singing some of the Christmas Carols and adding to the sounds of the season. Hopefully they help you prepare for the High Holy Day that marks the time that God took on human form in the Person of Jesus, the Savior of the World.

Jamie Jenkins

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*It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth
To touch their harps of gold!
Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From heaven’s all gracious King!
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.

Christmas shepherds

Still through the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing.
And ever o’er its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.

Christmas nativity

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

Christmas 2

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world hath suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love song which they bring:
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When, with the ever-circling years,
Shall come the Age of Gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And all the world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Merry Christmas!

christmas 4

I’d Miilad Said Oua Sana Saida (Arabic)

Kung His Hsin Nien bing Chu Shen Tan (Mandarin)
Prejeme Vam Vesele Vanoce a stastny Novy Rok (Czech)
Gladelig Jul (Danish)
Vrolijk Kerstfeest en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar (Dutch)
Joyeux Noel (French)
Froehliche Weihnachten (German)
Mo’adim Lesimkha. Chena tova (Hebrew)
Bada Din Mubarak Ho (Hindi)
Idah Saidan Wa Sanah Jadidah (Iraqi)
Nollaig Shona Dhuit (Irish)
Buon Natale or Buone Feste Natalizie (Italian)
Shinnen omedeto. Kurisumasu Omedeto (Japanese)
Sung Tan Chuk Ha (Korean)
Merry Keshmish (Navajo)
Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia (Polish)
Portuguese – Feliz Natal

Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva i s Novim Godom (Russian)
Feliz Navidad (Spanish)

Krismasi Njema (Swahili)
Noeliniz Ve Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun (Turkish)
Srozhdestvom Kristovym (Ukrainian)
Chung Mung Giang Sinh (Vietnamese)

Jamie Jenkins
*Edmund H. Sears wrote these words at the re­quest of his friend, W. P. Lunt, a min­is­ter in Quin­cy, Mass­a­chu­setts. The hymn was first sung at the 1849 Sun­day School Christ­mas cel­e­bra­tion.

*Text: Edmund H. Sears, 1810-1876