Draw Near and Listen!




In the materialistic frenzy that Christmas has become, it can be comforting to pause and focus on the simpler traditions of the season. One of the most delightful things about this time of year for many is the music. Some of the world’s most recognizable and beautiful melodies are found in our Christmas carols.


Illuminated Gregorian Chant score. Note the lack of defined time values, regular accents of rhythm, and harmony.

The tradition of singing carols is almost as old as the church itself. The first known hymns specifically for Christmas appeared in Rome during the fourth century. They were not the joyous or serene melodies we know today, but rather, were serious doctrinal statements set to music. As the form and complexity of music developed in Western Civilization, so did the music of Christmas. In the Middle Ages, sacred music with sequences of rhymed stanzas appeared so that by the twelfth century, something closer to what we might recognize as carols was introduced. The first English carols were formally documented in 1426 by John Awdlay in his collection of wassailing songs for Christmas. With the Reformation, congregational participation in worship services expanded and hymn singing became an important part of the order of worship in Protestant churches. This tide of religious change that washed over Europe brought Christmas carols from local folk song traditions into the churches. By the mid-18th century, the carols that we  sing today began appearing in printed form and are now included in most church hymnals. Christmas carols have come full circle as they are also part of our modern secular holiday tradition. Today, it seems that almost every recording artist produces at least one album of carols.



In keeping with this season of peace, a sampling of beautiful, but perhaps less familiar carols, anthems, and alternate melodies to traditional carols follow. The links are YouTube recordings of these musical offerings sung by wonderful, world famous choirs.


Personent Hodie in the 1582 edition of Piae Cantiones

Personent Hodie in the 1582 edition of Piae Cantiones


Personent Hodie, Lara Hoggard setting of a Medieval Christmas carol, sung by Clare College Choir, Cambridge. Rough translation of first lines: On this day earth shall ring with the song that children sing.






Stille, Stille, Stille, traditional Austrian carol, sung by Bryn Terfel. Translation of the opening line: Hush, hush, hush. The baby wants to sleep.

O Magnum Mysterium (O Great Mystery), Morten Lauridsen composer, sung by King’s College Choir, Cambridge. Ancient Latin text set in a hauntingly beautiful score reminiscent of Medieval chant.

Betelehemu, an African carol, a Song of Bethlehem, sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella, a traditional French carol, sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

A traditional English alternate melody for O Little Town of Bethlehem, John Rutter arranger and conductor, Clare College Choir, Cambridge.

A traditional English alternate melody of Away in a Manger, John Rutter arranger, sung by the Stairwell Carollers.


To you and yours from Carol, Becky, and Linda at History Imagined, may the holidays bring you peace and joy now and all the new year through.