Music has been an integral part of the Christmas celebration since the earliest years of the celebration. From traditional sacred music to up-tempo tunes, the songs of Christmas are a major part of the holiday.
But how much do you know about the origin stories of your favorite Christmas carols. Here is the story behind some of the most popular and well known Christmas carols of all time.
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
This popular Christmas carol is the brainchild of Charles Wesley, who wrote the beloved lyrics, and Felix Mendelssohn, who penned the familiar melody. The lyrics were originally written in 1739, but the song underwent a number of changes more than a decade later – in 1753. That was also the year this popular carol got its current name, and a classic was born.
Strangely enough, those famous lyrics were not married to the familiar tune until more than a century later. In 1840, famed composer Felix Mendelssohn was writing the music for a cantata commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Gutenberg printing press. More than a decade later, in 1855, that tune was finally matched with the lyrics penned in 1739, and a Christmas classic was born.
I Saw Three Ships
I Saw Three Ships is one of the most beloved Christmas carols in the world, and the song is a mainstay at holiday church services and pageants. The ships in the title are thought to refer not to sailing vessels but to the camels the three wise men rode en-route to the Christ child. Camels are, after all, called the ships of the desert.
The exact origins of the lyrics are shrouded in mystery, and there are many different versions of the song. These different versions have been found in England throughout the years, and they date to at least the 16th century.
The Huron Carol
The Huron Carol is one of the most beloved sacred songs of the Christmas season, and the origin of its lyrics is far less obscure than many other carols. The Huron Carol is also known as Twas in the Moon of Wintertime, but no matter what name it goes by the song is thought to be the oldest Canadian Christmas carol in the world.
The Huron Carol was first written in 1643, penned by Jesuit missionary Jean de Brébeuf. Jean de Brébeuf had worked with the Huron Indians for years. In fact, the original lyrics to the carol were composed in the Huron language.
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
With its infectious tune and unforgettable lyrics, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is one of the best known carols in the English language. It is also considered one of the oldest Christmas carols in existence, dating back more than 500 years.
The meaning of the lyrics is not cut and dried, but that is one of the things that makes the carol so special. Some listeners look at the song as a reassurance that the birth of Christ allows them to rest easily, while others see it as a sign that God keeps us safe through even the darkest times.
Christmas is a special time of year, and the music associated with the holiday makes it even better. The next time you hear your favorite tunes, you can smile at the secret stories behind these wonderful sacred songs.