Christmas carols around the world

12 December 2018

We take a look at the history of some popular Advent, Christmas and Epiphany hymns and carols from around the world:


O sleep now, holy baby    Mexican carol, translated by John Donald Robb (1892-1989).

Originally from Mexico, this carol, ‘Duérmete, Niño lindo’, tells of sorrows to come, especially the ‘Slaughter of the Innocents’ on the orders of King Herod. The significance of the ‘lullaby’ theme lies in the attempt to make the baby sleep in order not to attract the attention of Herod ’s soldiers...


Carol our Christmas    Shirley Erena Murray (1931-). 

This carol joyfully plays with the term ‘Antipodean’, offering itself as an ‘Up-side-down’ vision of Christmas where snow is not falling and trees are not bare, a time when the Christ Child may be ‘warm in our sunshine and sweetness of air’...


Minuit, chrétiens, c'est l'heure solennelle     Placide Cappeau (1808-1877).

Adam gave the tune and the carol itself the name of ‘La Marseillaise réligieuse’. The implications of this title are suited to Cappeau’s text, because it uses the Christmas story to emphasise the revolutionary aspects of the Incarnation...


Zu Bethlehem geboren   Friedrich Spee von Langenfeld (1591-1635).

Published after Spee’s death in Geistlicher Psalter, with the title ‘Hertzopffer’ (‘heart-sacrifice’). It has been noted that this hymn reflects the beliefs and the Spiritual Exercises of the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyola...


O little town of Bethlehem    Phillips Brooks (1835-1893).

Written in 1868 for the Sunday School of Brooks’s church in Philadelphia. It was the product of what Wordsworth called ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity’, for it depended on a visit that Brooks had made to Bethlehem at Christmas 1865...


More hymns and carols featured in the Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology:

Angels, from the realms of glory

As with gladness men of old

Ding! dong! merrily on high

Gabriel's Message

Go tell it on the mountain

Good Christian men, rejoice

Good King Wenceslas looked out

Hark the glad sound! The Saviour comes

Hark! the herald angels sing

In the bleak mid-winter

It came upon the midnight clear

Joy to the world, the Lord is come

Lobt Gott, ihr Christen alle gleich

Love came down at Christmas

Now the heavens start to whisper

O come, all ye faithful

O come, O come Emmanuel

O little town of Bethlehem

On the eve of Christmas

Once in royal David's city

See, amid the winter's snow

Silent Night! holy Night!

The holly and the ivy

Var hälsad, sköna morgonstund

We three kings of Orient are

While shepherds watched their flocks by night

Who is he, in yonder stall