I am part of a religious tradition which has been known historically for its tendency to avoid celebrating December 25 as the birthday of Christ. That preference, often rising to the level of a doctrinal stance, has brought at least two results. First, we are not familiar with the wonderful variety of Nativity hymnody which exists. Two, to avoid the appearance of acknowledging or celebrating December 25 as the birthday of Christ, we generally sing the familiar songs which we do know at times other than the Christmas season.
As a former music major, I share over the next several days various carols or portions of carols, some longer and some shorter, some only excerpts, which suggest the rich depth of Christmas carols. I begin today with selections from three songs.
What babe new born is this that in a manger cries?
Near on her lowly bed his happy mother lies.
Oh, see the air is shaken with white and heavenly wings –
This is the Lord of all the earth, this is the King of Kings.
–Richard Watson Gilder, A Christmas Hymn (st. 4)
This is the month, and this the happy morn,
Wherein the Son of Heaven’s eternal King,
Of wedded maid and virgin mother born,
Our great redemption from above did bring,
For so the holy sages once did sing,
That He our deadly forfeit should release,
and with His Father work us a perpetual peace.
–John Milton, Hymn – On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity
God rest ye, little children; let nothing you affright,
For Jesus Christ, your Saviour, was born this happy night;
Along the hills of Galilee the white flocks sleeping lay,
When Christ, the Child of Nazareth, was born on Christmas Day.
–Dinah Maria Mulock (used pseudonym, Mrs. Craik), Christmas Carol (st. 2)