Thursday Thirteen: Christmas Carols' Back Stories

Stories Behind the Best-loved Songs of Christmas by Ace Collins made its way to me last Christmas by way of my daughter. This year, I asked her to pick 13 songs from the book that I should write about for this post. I was surprised how many were made for Hollywood and how many were at first rejected by the church. The book is fascinating. Here are my daughter's choices:

1. "Angels we Have Heard on High"
Parts of this hymn were sung by the early Church even before Christianity took root in western Europe. Collins says it's possible the chorus was written within 100 years of Christ's birth.

2. "Away in a Manger"

Though it was written by an anonymous American in the mid-1800s, there was a longstanding rumor that Martin Luther had written the song and sung it to his own children.

3. "Do You Hear What I Hear?"
Noel Regney, a Frenchman who emigrated to the US after World War II, wrote the lyrics as an antidote to his fear and concern about Vietnam and the Cold War.

4. "Go Tell it on the Mountain"
This spiritual was rescued by John Wesley Work, his son, and his grandson. Not long after the Civil War, John Work to preserve the music of African Americans.This is one of the few songs about Christmas; most spirituals focus on pain and suffering.

5. "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"
Written by Charles Wesley in 1737, the song originally began, "Hark! how all the welkin rings." Welkin is an archaic word that literally mean the "vault of heaven makes a long noise." Wesley was furious when friend George Whitefield, a bartender turned Calvinist preacher, changed the line to "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." Nowhere does the Bible say angels sang at Christ's birth, Wesley said.

6. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"
Judy Garland was the first to sing this song, which was written for the movie Meet me in St. Louis. It was an instant hint among WWII service personnel eager to come home.

7. "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear"

Unitarian minister Dr. Edumund Sears of Massachusetts wrote the lyrics in 1849 as part of a Christmas sermon exhorting his congregation to serve the needs of the poor.

8. "Jingle Bells"

This Christmas carol with its references to dating and betting started out as special music for a Thanksgiving service at a Medford, Massachusetts, Unitarian church. At the time, Thanksgiving was the biggest holiday of the year. (more)

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  1. That's very interesting unfortunately I can't put any music on the english titles, besides Gingle Bell. If I know them it would be in German or French.

  2. #6 always gives me chills and makes me remember Christmas past. I dont know why. I thought I had already left a comment but I guess not???? Happy TT. Great list. Thanks for stopping by. Its always nice to see you:)

  3. It's so interesting to learn a little about the history of our beloved carols. Thanks for this list (and for your daughter's help!) :~D

  4. Wow, I loved this post Sandy. It was so interesting to find out the story behind the songs that are so familiar.

  5. I love reading stories behind the songs written. I have a book like that on hymns.

  6. i love christmas music! i've be listening to it ever since thanksgiving! haha

    happy tt!


  7. a cheery christmas to you too

  8. It's time for Christmas music already! The year just seems to fly by.


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