WHAT CHILD IS THIS?

I love the music of Christmas. I could play it all year long if I weren’t married to Scrooge. Those songs are so uplifting and beautiful that they make me feel good just to hear them, and you can’t help but sing along with them.

 

My dad always loved Christmas, and was a great practical jokester. He delighted in making phone calls to his grandchildren, pretending to be Santa. He’d call back later on for a rundown about what happened on our end—the looks, the comments, and the joy of getting a real live phone call from Santa! One of the traditions in our house was the box of chocolate covered cherries that was always under the tree for him from my mom, a reminder of hard Christmases in years past when that might have been the only gift she could afford. Another was that our house was always filled with Christmas music.

 

I was a classically trained pianist from the time I turned seven years old. My father’s favorite Christmas carol was What Child Is This? Once I mastered it, I delighted in playing it for him because he took such pleasure in it, and since it was also the tune to another song, Greensleeves, I played it all year round for him.

 

The tune known as Greensleeves was a British drinking song for many years, a popular folk song that was not religious. In ancient Britain, there have been more than twenty different known lyrics associated with the tune throughout history. It was first published in 1652.

 

Shakespeare mentions it by name in “The Merry Wives of Windsor” in which it is played while traitors are hanged. It has been attributed to King Henry VIII, and said that he wrote it for Anne Boleyn. How did this song become one of the best-loved Christmas carols of all time?

 

In 1865, Englishman William Chatterton Dix wrote “The Manger Throne,” three verses of which became “What Child Is This?” During that particular era, Christmas was not as openly celebrated as it is today. Many conservative Puritan churches forbade gift-giving, decorating or even acknowledging the day as a special day for fear that Christmas would become a day of pagan rituals more than a serious time of worship. Although Dix wrote other hymns, in the context of the times, it was unusual for him to write about Christ’s birth, since many hymn writers and religious factions ignored Christmas completely.

 

The words represent a unique view of Christ’s birth. While the baby was the focal point of the song, the point of view of the writer seemed to be that of a confused observer. Dix imagined the visitors to the manger bed wondering about the child who had just been born.  In each verse, he described the child’s birth, life, death and resurrection, answering the question with a triumphant declaration of the infant’s divinity.

 

“The Manger Throne” was published in England just as the U.S. Civil War was ending.  The song quickly made its way from Britain to the United States. Dix died in 1898, living long enough to see “The Manger Throne” become the Christmas carol “What Child Is This?”

 I’m posting some of my Christmas covers for anyone who might be needing some historical Christmas story reading over the holidays! The link appears below.

   http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B002JV8GUE 

Hope everyone has a very MERRY CHRISTMAS!

 

 

 

 

 

Cheryl Pierson
A native Oklahoman, I've been influenced by the west all my life. I love to write short stories and novels in the historical western and western romance genres, as well as contemporary romantic suspense! Check my Amazon author page to see my work: http://www.amazon.com/author/cherylpierson
I live in Oklahoma City with my husband of 40 years. I love to hear from readers and other authors--you can contact me here: fabkat_edit@yahoo.com
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24 Comments

  1. Cheryl,this song has always been one of my favorites, the tune, the lyrics both for Christmas and for Greensleeves. I lovemthe facts benind the song that you present, as the personal recollection of your dad. Merry Christmas and happy new year. oxoxox

  2. Love that beautiful, classic melody Cheryl, with or without the lyrics. Hard to imagine it as a drinking song.
    Your dad sounds like a delight. Glad you have such happy memories of him. And I remember those cherry chocolates! We had them, too. Once as a kid I ate most of a box full. Got so sick. To this day I can’t stand even the thought of eating them.
    Thanks for a memorable post.
    🙂

  3. Hi Tanya,
    Me, too! I just love the tune, no matter what lyrics are sung to it. My dad loved Christmas more than anyone, I think. He always had a joke up his sleeve–nothing that would be harmful, just trying to keep the kids believing in Santa as long as possible. Hope you had a wonderful Christmas–we did!
    Hugs,
    Cheryl P.

  4. Hi Elizabeth!
    I have two arrangements of it that I love to just sit down and play on the piano no matter what time of year it is. I don’t sing when I play–not coordinated enough to do that on the piano, but thank GOD I can on the guitar. LOL Oh, you poor thing–getting sick on those chocolate covered cherries would just be horrible. I usually limit myself (now) to about 3–but when I was a kid, I could have sat and ate a whole box of them. I saw the other day in the Christmas ads where they also now have chocolate covered blueberries. I love me some blueberries, but just can’t imagine them in that form. Hope you had a wonderful Christmas, Elizabeth!
    Hugs,
    Cheryl P.

  5. I LOVE this song. It’s beautiful in every style, every format–everything from country to a classical kind of delivery. I have a version on mandolins and dulcimers I thoroughly enjoy. And oh! What a fun thing for your dad to do! Those Santa calls had to be hilarious.

  6. Vicki,
    They were so hysterical. One time, my niece had a friend staying with her that day (over Christmas break)–they were probalby about 8 or so. This other little girl never believed in Santa. Her parents had told her all along that Santa was just made up, and my niece, Allison, believed in Santa until she was 20 I think. LOL Well, Dad just happened to call, and Allison said, “Here, Santa! I want you to talk to my friend and tell her you are REAL!” Allison’s friend, Mandy was saying, “OH, don’t tell him I don’t believe in him!” LOL She took the phone and my dad talked to her a few minutes and when she went back home that day she told her mother that she DID believe in Santa and she had known he was real all along. Getting that phone call thrilled her to death. I love that song so much, too, Vicki. I think a lot of it is because I remember how much my dad enjoyed it. Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas!
    Hugs,
    Cheryl

  7. Cheryl,

    This is my all time favorite carol! I’ve loved it forever, and sing it throughout the year. Thanks for sharing its history.

    Your Dad sounds like a hoot! That’s so great that he not only got into the spirit, but brought so much Christmas joy to others.

  8. Kirsten,
    I have always just loved this carol so much–and I know a big part of it is the sentimentality of the memories of dad that are mingled with it. I can’t hear it or play it without thinking of him, but that’s such a good memory. He went home to be with Jesus 4 years ago on December 23. He always thought of special little ways to make Santa seem more real. One year, he went outside the house and shook some jingle bells (we had a little dusting of snow that year) and had made some “reindeer paw prints” right outside the door. Oh, how we rushed to get to bed! LOL Thanks so much for coming by and commenting–I hope you had a wonderful Christmas!
    Hugs,
    Cheryl P.

  9. I just REMEMBERED THERE’S A BOX OF CHOCOLATE COVERED CHERRIES UNDER MY CHRISTMAS TREE!!!!!!!!! I SPOTTED THEM BRIEFLY ON CHRISTMAS DAY THEN, in the endless food fest of the last few days, forgot all about them.
    BUT THEY ARE THERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    YUM!!!!!

  10. I must leave now and go gobble them up. bye

  11. Cheryl, what a great post. And such fond memories of your father, who must have been a real lark to grow up with. I’m so impressed learning that you were trained as a classical pianist. What we don’t learn about our fellow Fillies every time we turn around. Great post and thanks for sharing this lovely story behind the song with all of us. I look forward to a fabulous 2012 for not only all of our Fillies but our readers. Hugs, Phyliss

  12. Mary, I wish I lived near you and could share your chocolate covered cherries. That was one of my traditional gifts to my favorite aunt who was more like a mother to me than an aunt. I never see a box without thinking about her. My daughters and granddaughters made some this year, but they just weren’t the same. I might just go out and buy a box and eat them all by myself. Hugs, Phyliss

  13. Cheryl, I learned something new about my Filly sister today. I didn’t know you were a classical pianist. Wow! I’m so impressed. I always wanted to play the piano but never got a chance to learn. I love the song What Child is This. Very beautiful and moving.

    I downloaded A Night For Miracles onto my new Kindle last night and loved it. Such a tender romantic story. Nick made such a great hero. He was tough and hard but you showed underneath all that was a kind gentle man. I also downloaded The Traditional West anthology but haven’t read it yet. Looking forward to it though.

    Wishing you a Happy New Year and much success in 2012.

  14. Mary, go easy on the chocolate covered cherries. They’re very addictive. I’d hate to see you have to go into rehab. LOL

  15. Mary,
    I could eat those things til the cows come home. I buy myself at LEAST one box every year, and I hide them. They are MINE. Did you know you can freeze those? My sis used to stock up on the after Christmas sales and freeze them so she’d always have them no matter when Dad and Mom came to visit throughout the year. Happy eating!
    Hugs,
    Cheryl

  16. Phyliss,
    My dad was one of those “before his time” people. He never graduated from college, but knew more than most people I’ve ever met–he could read something and retain the details, which I guess made him so good in math and physics, which he loved, and chemistry, which he had to do as part of his work. He was a chemical engineer for an oil company, and I can’t say enough how much his hard work throughout the years meant to our family. But he had a dry sense of humor and just a cutting wit that I LOVED. And he was one of the most selfless, generous people I ever knew. I just got an e-mail from my cousin yesterday–her husband is one of the operations managers at Epcot. She had gone to DISNEY CHRISTMAS WORLD and lo and behold, one of my stories in an OLD Adams Media Christmas anthology has been rereleased and was on the FRONT SHELF! It was the story I wrote about my dad’s last Christmas and one of the gifts I brought him was a box of peppermint flavored chocolate covered cherries. He was just in awe of those. LOL Did my heart good to know that story is still out there–even though I just got paid pennies for it. LOL As far as the piano playing–I love it NOW, but as a child my mom and I went round and round over the practice that was required. My teacher was a taskmaster and had a waiting list. By the time we went into 7th grade, she expected AT LEAST 2 hours of practice EVERY DAY. No days off. It paid off in the long run, but at the time, I had many a thought of running away. LOL Merry Christmas, Phyliss! I hope you had a wonderful holiday. I say, go buy the cherries–they’ll be 1/2 price today!LOL
    Hugs,
    Cheryl

  17. Linda!
    I am so glad you enjoyed A NIGHT FOR MIRACLES. I have often thought of going back to revisit that story and lengthening it some. I really did love those characters, and there was so much room for developing them that I didn’t take advantage of because of the length parameters. A TRADITIONAL WEST is on sale right now, through Jan. 15, for only $3.99, I think–such a deal! No romance in these stories, but you might find some strictly western writers you like that you wouldn’t have known about before. I love being able to play the piano. The odd thing is, I have talked to several of the girls who took piano from the same teacher I did, etc. and none of them play now. As soon as they were done with high school, they all gave it up. There is only one that I know of that still plays. Very sad, I think, but I do understand it–it was too much for a child, but it was expected. If you were going to take from that teacher you were going to do that amount of practice. There was no doubt about it, she got results–we always won our contests and our recitals were phenomenal. I can just about play anything I lay my hands on with a little practice, but I go through times where I don’t play for maybe 2 weeks. Then I want to do nothing but play–I don’t play the technical stuff so much anymore. If it’s something you think you’d like to do, you should consider it, still. My kids both play–I taught them the basics–my daughter has always been able to hear a song a couple of times then play it, which I can’t do. My son is more like me–as long as he has the sheet music, he usually can work it out with a little help. But I never really forced them. Now, it’s all for relaxation with me. I don’t play for weddings or anything like that.I really just enjoy it now, and there is nothing more relaxing to me. I just downloaded A TEXAS CHRISTMAS this morning. I plan to get going on that tonight! Looks soooo good!
    Hugs,
    Cheryl

  18. I too could listen to Christmas music all year long and sometimes do to remind myself to keep the Spirit of Christmas around all year. Thanks for sharing the history of one of my favorites.

  19. Me, too, Connie. Love that Christmas music, and there is something about it that just soothes me and makes me feel better, no matter what time of year it is. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas!
    Cheryl P.

  20. Cheryl, what a wonderful story and fantastic, loving memories you have of your father. I can only imagine how pleased you are about the reissue and at Disney of all places! How fabulous, I know you’re popping your buttons now. Like Linda, I’m envious of your playing a piano. Mother and Daddy bought us one (4 girls), but I couldn’t play because I have short, stubby fingers. Well, that might not have been the real reason, but Mama bought it! I know you’re happy now that you had a hard taskmaster for your Mama. It’s worth it!

    Oh, I forgot the chocolate covered cherries would be half price today, so I’m off to Walgreens. Mary, you better watch out, I might out eat you on ‘um! Big hugs to all, Phyliss

  21. Phyliss,
    You are so right–I do have some of the best memories in the world about my dad, and I am so grateful that I was able to get my start in writing by being a contributor to these Adams Media anthologies and Chicken Soup, which I still write for on occasion. It gives me a chance to get some of these memories and stories out there in a venue that otherwise might not be available. Yes, I am thrilled that Adams media has kept reissuing those anthologies from time to time, because even though I’m not making any money from them, it gives new readers a chance to enjoy those stories. Yes, it is worth it to be able to play now. I enjoy it soooo much, and there are days when I’m at my wits’ end, but can just sit down and play and it relaxes me–better than taking a valium. LOL Get some of those cherries and enjoy, Phyliss!
    Hugs,
    Cheryl

  22. Thank you for an interesting and enlightening post. I had known the melody was an old, English drinking tune, but didn’t realize the number of variations or it use in THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR. I think part of what makes it special is the different point of view that you mentioned. Being questioning rather than declarative makes one think a bit more about what happened. Better to think about the true meaning rather than just smile and think ‘that’s nice.’

    How great that the song has such wonderful memories connected to it for you. I hope you and your family are having a wonderful Christmas holiday and that 2012 will be a great year for you and yours.

  23. Hi Patricia!
    Thanks so much–we had a wonderful Christmas–both my kids came over and spent the night on Christmas Eve like “the old days” and we drank hot chocolate and opened a few presents. Then the next morning we finished the present opening, and I just made biscuits for everyone–had all kinds of jelly and honey and butter, and it was scrumptious. You know, even my kids remember how much my dad loved that song, so it brings back fond memories for us all when we hear it. I hope your Christmas was wonderful, too, and here’s hoping that 2012 will be a fantastic year for each and every one of us.
    Cheryl

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