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Christmas 2011

#46: Carol of the Bells

Legend says that at the stroke of midnight on the evening when Jesus was born every bell on the earth began ringing joyously together. It is said there was never a sound quite like it. The song “Carol of the Bells” probably comes from that legend.

Traditionally, the song starts out soft and gets progressively louder as each voice adds tintinnabulation and then the song softly fades away. The tune for the song was written by Mykola Dmytrovich and was based on an old Ukrainian melody. The words that are used today were written by American composer Peter J. Wihousky, who grew up singing in Russian-American choirs. It was first performed in the Ukraine on the night of January 13, 1916, which on the Julian calendar is considered New Year’s Eve. In the United States the song was first performed on October 5, 1921 at Carnegie Hall.

Lyrics

Hark! how the bells
Sweet silver bells
All seem to say,
“Throw cares away.”
Christmas is here
Bringing good cheer
To young and old
Meek and the bold

Ding, dong, ding, dong
That is their song
With joyful ring
All caroling
One seems to hear
Words of good cheer
From ev’rywhere
Filling the air

Oh how they pound,
Raising the sound,
O’er hill and dale,
Telling their tale,
Gaily they ring
While people sing
Songs of good cheer
Christmas is here
Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas
Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas

On, on they send
On without end
Their joyful tone
To ev’ry home

Ding, dong, ding, dong.

#45: As With Gladness Men of Old

“As With Gladness Men of Old” was written by William Chatterton Dix. He wrote it on the day of the Epiphany in 1858, while sick in bed. During this time, he read the story of the wise men in the Bible and pondered how he could give the story meaning in his own life. For a living, Dix managed a maritime insurance company in Glasgow, Scotland, but his passion was in poetry and writing song lyrics. He thought about the Magi’s long journey to see the Christ child. Dix knew well about the dangers of travel in his own time, and knew that such a trip for the Magi would be fraught with peril. But instead of focusing on the journey, he focused on the destination, and the joy of giving gifts. The hymn was first published in Dix’s Hymns of Love and Joy in 1861. It was set to music by Conrad Kocher, another man intimately familiar with travel, and who had established the School of Sacred Music in Struttgart, Germany in 1821.

Lyrics

As with gladness, men of old
Did the guiding star behold
As with joy they hailed its light
Leading onward, beaming bright
So, most glorious Lord, may we
Evermore be led to Thee.

As with joyful steps they sped
To that lowly manger bed
There to bend the knee before
Him Whom Heaven and earth adore;
So may we with willing feet
Ever seek Thy mercy seat.

As they offered gifts most rare
At that manger rude and bare;
So may we with holy joy,
Pure and free from sin’s alloy,
All our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to Thee, our heavenly King.

Holy Jesus, every day
Keep us in the narrow way;
And, when earthly things are past,
Bring our ransomed souls at last
Where they need no star to guide,
Where no clouds Thy glory hide.

In the heavenly country bright,
Need they no created light;
Thou its Light, its Joy, its Crown,
Thou its Sun which goes not down;
There forever may we sing
Alleluias to our King!

#44: Joseph’s Lullaby

“Joseph’s Lullaby” is a song by the Christian rock band MercyMe that gives us a glimpse of how Joseph may have viewed the birth of his new son. The touching lyrics foreshadow the eventual ministry and atonement of the Savior, but gently reminds us that Joseph was also simply a father who loved his newborn child. The song was written in 2005, and reached #33 in the U.S. Billboard charts, and #1 in the Christian music charts.

My deepest thanks to Coulter Neale for providing the guitar and vocals for this arrangement.

Lyrics

Go to sleep, my Son.
This manger for your bed.
You have a long road before You.
Rest Your little head.

Can You feel the weight of Your glory?
Do You understand the price?
Does the Father guard Your heart for now
So You can sleep tonight?

Go to sleep, my Son.
Go and chase Your dreams.
This world can wait for one more moment.
Go and sleep in peace.

I believe the glory of Heaven
Is lying in my arms tonight.
Lord, I ask that He for just this moment
Simply be my child.

Go to sleep, my Son.
Baby, close Your eyes.
Soon enough You’ll save the day.
But for now, dear Child of mine,
Oh my Jesus, sleep tight.

#43: There’s a Song in the Air

“There’s a Song in the Air” is both a Christmas carol and Methodist hymn. The lyrics were written by Josiah G. Holland, a very popular poet and novelist in the post-Civil War era and late 19th century. The words paint a picture of the different elements of the Nativity, and recognize Jesus as King.

The song has been covered often. The original tune was composed by Karl P. Harrington in 1905. The rendition played here, however, is a medley of the original tune plus a couple other more modern variations by Gloria Merritt and John G. Elliott.

Lyrics

There’s a song in the air
There’s a star in the sky
There’s a mother’s deep prayer
And a Baby’s low cry
And the star rains its fire
While the beautiful sing
For the manger of Bethlehem
Cradles a King

There’s a tumult of joy
O’er the wonderful birth
For the Virgin’s sweet boy
Is the Lord of the earth.
Aye! the star rains its fire
While the beautiful sing
For the manger of Bethlehem
Cradles a King

In the light of that star
Lie the ages impearled
And that song from afar
Has swept over the world
Every hearth is aflame
And beautiful sing
In the homes of the nations
That Jesus is King

We rejoice in the light
And we echo the song
That comes down through the night
From the heavenly throng
Aye! we shout to the
Lovely evangel they bring
And we greet in His cradle
Our Savior and King

#42: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

It was a time of intense sorrow and despair in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s life. His wife had tragically died in a fire in 1861. The American Civil War had just broken out, and his oldest son Charles had decided to join the Union cause without his father’s blessing. He was severely wounded in battle after several months of fighting. For Longfellow, this was just an endless punishment. In 1864, he sat down at his desk and penned the poem “Christmas Bells.” In this poem, Longfellow somberly recognizes that God is not dead, that right will prevail, and bring peace and goodwill to men. This is the message of Christmas and its promise of new life. The poem has been set to a few tunes, the two most common being the English organist John Baptiste Calkin’s melody in the 1870s, and Johnny Marks’ traditional melody in the 1950s.

Lyrics

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

#41: I Wonder As I Wander

John Jacob Niles was traveling through a raucous revivalist meeting in North Carolina on July 16, 1933. A group was about to begin street preaching, when a girl stepped out of the entourage. She was unkempt and ragged, but once she started singing she had a beautiful voice. She smiled as she sang a single line of a song: “I wonder as I wander out under the sky…” with the reasons for Christ’s death as the central question and message of the poignant, yet simple tune.

Niles asked the girl to sing the song fragment seven more times over again, paying her a quarter each time she did, while he jotted it down in his notebook. From this, he composed “I Wonder As I Wander,” with four phrases and three stanzas. The song was completed on October 4, 1933, and premiered at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina.

Lyrics

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on’ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

When Mary birthed Jesus ’twas in a cow’s stall
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all
But high from God’s heaven, a star’s light did fall
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing
A star in the sky or a bird on the wing
Or all of God’s Angels in heaven to sing
He surely could have it, ’cause he was the King.

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on’ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

#40: I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus

Many fathers dress up in red suits and white beards around Christmastime and bring joy and laughter to their children. But what happens when the children creep down from their bedroom late at night and catch “Santa” off guard? The song “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” was written by Tommie Connor in 1952, with 13 year-old Jimmy Boyd singing for the recording. The song reached #1 in the Billboard Charts in December of the same year.

Lyrics

I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus
Underneath the mistletoe last night.
She didn’t see me creep
Down the stairs to have a peek;
She thought I was tucked
Up in my bedroom fast asleep.

Then, I saw Mommy tickle Santa Claus
Underneath his beard so snowy white.
Oh, what a laugh it would have been,
If Daddy had only seen
Mommy kissing Santa Claus last night!

#39: In the Bleak Midwinter

“In the Bleak Midwinter” is based on a poem by Christina Rossetti, written around 1872. The evocative lyrics paint a picture of the Nativity in a snowy Northern landscape. The text of this Christmas poem has been set to music many times, the most famous settings being composed by Gustav Holst and Harold Edwin Darke in the early 20th century. The carol is beloved by millions, and in 2008, Darke’s version of the song was voted the “Best Christmas Carol” by the world’s leading choirmasters and choral experts.

Lyrics

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone:
Snow had fallen, snow on snow
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign:
In the bleak midwinter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty
Jesus Christ.

Enough for him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk,
And a mangerful of hay:
Enough for him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air;
But only his mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give him,
Give my heart.

#38: Hark! the Herald Angels Sing

Felix Mendelssohn composed the tune to this song in 1840, but the original tune was a solemn one written by Charles Wesley at the inception of the carol one hundred years earlier in 1739. The lyrics have changed as well. The original lyrics by Wesley read “Hark, how all the welkin [heaven] rings,” but his colleague George Whitefield changed this line to the one we know today. Mendelssohn’s song was originally part of a cantata commemorating printer Johann Gutenberg. The music familiar to us was applied to the lyrics 15 years after Mendelssohn’s composition by W.H. Cummings, an English musician.

Lyrics

Hark the herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled”
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ by highest heav’n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin’s womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

#37: Walking in the Air

“Walking in the Air” is the only vocalization of the wordless 1982 animated film The Snowman, which is based on Raymond Briggs’ children’s book of the same name.

The film is about the adventures of a young boy, who builds a snowman on Christmas Eve. The snowman comes to life, and the two fly to the North Pole. “Walking in the Air” is the theme for their journey as they soar through the clouds. They attend a party of snowmen, meet Father Christmas and his reindeer, and the boy is given a scarf with a snowman pattern. In the film the song was performed by St Paul’s Cathedral choirboy Peter Auty. A subsequent single release was sung by Aled Jones, and reached number five in the UK pop charts in 1985.

Lyrics

We’re walking in the air,
We’re floating in the moonlit sky,
The people far below are sleeping as we fly.

We’re holding very tight.
I’m riding in the midnight blue.
I’m finding I can fly so high above with you.

Far across the world,
The villages go by like dreams,
The rivers and the hills,
The forest and the streams.

Children gaze open mouthed,
Taken by surprise.
Nobody down below believes their eyes.

We’re surfing in the air.
We’re swimming in the frozen sky.
We’re drifting over icy mountains floating by.

Suddenly swooping low on an ocean deep,
Arousing of a mighty monster from its sleep.

We’re walking in the air,
We’re dancing in the midnight sky.
And everyone who sees us greets us as we fly.

#36: It Came Upon the Midnight Clear

Edmund Hamilton Sears was a young Unitarian minister living in Massachusetts when he penned the poem “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” in 1849. It was published that year in the Christian Register magazine in Boston. The following year, Richard Storrs Willis, an editor and critic for the New York Tribune as well as an accomplished musician, wrote the music for the poem. The song has made its way into Christian hymnals all over the world, as well as traditional Christmas albums by numerous singers.

Lyrics

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to men
From heavens all gracious King!”
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled;
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world:
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o’er its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.

O ye beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace, their King,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

songs

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contact
Feel free to email me at christmas@justinreeve.com.