Christmas Carols! What Child is This? by Cheryl Pierson

I love the music of Christmas. I could play it all year long if I weren’t married to someone who isn’t as crazy about it as I am. 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?”

And here is Brad Paisley singing WHAT CHILD IS THIS? What is your favorite Christmas carol? Mine is Silent Night.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDD3N7G6Qqw

Credit to Wikipedia Article for much of this information.

 

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 37 years. I love to hear from readers and other authors--you can contact me here: fabkat_edit@yahoo.com
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47 Comments

  1. Away in a Manger

    1. That was a favorite of mine, too, all through the years, Eliza. Love that one so much!

  2. Mine is It Came Upon a Midnight Clear and O Holy Night.

    1. Debra, I always loved It Came Upon a Midnight Clear too. And O Holy Night was my mom’s favorite. She had a beautiful voice and sang a lot around the house–I think I got my love of music from her.

  3. I like Silent Night too

    1. Janine, when I was little, I thought the words were “Round John Virgin” LOL It was a big joke in my family until I was old enough to know the right words. LOL

      1. I can definitely see how you thought that.

  4. I love Silent Night.

    1. I do, too, Estella. I always have. I really love all the carols but that one stands out as my favorite.

  5. I love Away In The Manger.

    1. Tonya, I love that one, too. I remember when I learned there were actually two tunes for it! Shocked me! LOL

  6. Silent Night, O Holy Night, is some of my favorites. I just enjoy Christmas music.

    1. Gail, I do, too. I remember, growing up, Firestone used to put out a Christmas album every year with various artists doing Christmas songs. I loved those albums! I think we had every one they ever put out–those were treasures!

  7. Avatar

    I also love Christmas music and one favorite carol is I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. I also like Mary, Did You Know? It isn’t an old classic but I believe that it will be.
    Thanks for sharing about What Child Is This?

    1. Connie, I love I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, too. And I agree with you that Mary, Did You Know will one day be a classic. On YouTube, there is a clip of the man who wrote the song singing it with some young people–maybe students? It’s really pretty!

  8. I love the song “Mary Did You Know”. It makes my heart feel so good whenever I hear it. Here’s the link to Peter Hollens version. He sings it so well.

    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ntxQ5moHe2I

    1. Theresa, I love Peter Hollens. I love that he does so many of the older folk tunes–I grew up playing so many of those on the piano because they were songs my mom’s family sang (so many of them are Scottish or Irish) and it’s just so good to see someone doing them so beautifully. Thanks for the link!

      1. You’re welcome Cheryl. I came across Peter a couple of years ago by accident and love listening to his very talented voice. I agree that it’s good to see someone (or actually listen to lol) doing the older folk tunes. He does well singing with other groups too, he just fits right in. 🙂 I’m glad you liked the link too. It makes it easier to find that song. Merry Christmas to you and your family!

        1. I saw a video Peter did with his wife–oh gosh, they sound so beautiful together! Hope you have a wonderful Christmas, Theresa!

          1. Thank you Cheryl! ?

            1. The question mark was supposed to be a Christmas tree.

              1. Cool! I didn’t know you could make a Christmas tree on the computer. I need to get with the program. LOL

  9. Avatar

    Very interesting blog! I love Christmas music and picking one song is very difficult for me. Hmmm Mary Did You know and Hallelujah are my current favs, Childhood favs were The Little Drummer Boy and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer yet another of my not traditional favs is Feliz Navidad because I’ve had so much Hispanic influence in my life. Merry Christmas!

    1. Oh, I love Feliz Navidad! It just makes me feel good! I remember when Jose Feliciano made that so popular. I love The Little Drummer Boy, too, and of course, as a kid who DIDN’T love Rudolph! Everyone had had experiences with bullying and not feeling a part of the “reindeer games” in real life, so all kids could relate to Rudolph getting to be the hero! Like you, there are so many great Christmas songs, I can’t pick “just one” to settle on. LOL

  10. wow this is a wonderful post. I didnt know a lot of this. I do love that song, “What Child is This” also. thank you for sharing today. Merry Christmas.

    1. Lori, so glad you enjoyed this. I never hear Greensleeves/What Child is This without thinking immediately of my dad. I think out of all the songs in the world, that one must have been his very favorite of all. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas!

  11. Great post. Silent Night has always had a special place in my heart.

    1. Thanks, Christine! I’ve finally got my tree up so I’m “in the spirit” now and ready for Christmas. In my younger days, I put the tree up and decorated the entire house over Thanksgiving weekend, but it takes me longer now. LOL There’s something so peaceful about Silent Night. I love it for that reason. Merry Christmas!

  12. My father in law would always get a box of chocolate covered cherries each Christmas! He passed away two years ago and that first Christmas we would get teary eyed as we passed those boxes in the store and didn’t have a reason to buy them that year. I loved that tradition.
    I am also a huge fan of Christmas songs at any time! My family not so much. 🙂 My favorite is Josh Groban’s O Holy Night.

    1. Hi Susan, You’re not alone. My mom always got chocolate covered cherries for Xmas and she passed away four years ago, so seeing them always leaves a hole in my heart too. God Bless and Merry Christmas.

    2. Susan, those must have been such a “thing” back in the day when they first came out–kind of a specialty treat for common folk. I always think of my dad when I see them, and I always buy myself a box or two. Did you know you can freeze them for later on in the year?

      1. Oh Eliza – isn’t that crazy how that is? Who knew one box of chocolate covered cherries could mean so much.
        Cheryl – I had no clue you could freeze them! I will have to do that now. 🙂

  13. I love O’Holy Night. It brings me to tears when I hear it sung. It was my dad’s fav. He loved Perry Como doing this song. My mom’s was O Come all ye Faithfull or Adeste Fideles in Latin.

    1. Kathleen, that was my mom’s favorite, though she loved most all the Christmas music. Perry Como did a great version of that! It’s really a tough song to sing.

  14. I love Silent Night. I can sing it in English and Spanish. I used to be able to sing it in German.

    1. Denise! So cool! I would love to be able to sing that in different languages. Now I’m on a mission, girl! LOL Thanks for stopping by today, and I hope you have a wonderful Christmas!

  15. O Holy Night brings Christmas to my heart.

    1. Mine, too–it’s “the” Christmas song, really, IMO. I admire anyone who can sing it and do a good job of it–it’s a hard one, but so beautiful.

  16. Great post, Cheryl. I love Christmas music and play it long past Christmas. As a child, Oh Come All Ye Faithful was my favorite because it was so lively. Christmas Eve, after supper and before opening the gifts, we’d sing carols with just the tree lit. My mother and grandmother had beautiful voices and sang harmony while I sang lead. Now I just play carols on the stereo while we open the gifts. I particularly love the Christmas albums by Boney M and Johnny Reed….they are great albums to play while decorating the house and I confess I love to play them long after Christmas is over.

    1. My aunt used to say she’d play Christmas music anytime she needed to feel a “pick me up” and she did! I loved that mentality. It really does put you in a good frame of mind when you listen to it, no matter what time of year it is. Lots of great memories! Hope you have a Very Merry Christmas, Elizabeth!

  17. I, too, love Christmas music. Last night, my husband and I went to a Christmas-themed symphony, and it was so moving to hear the beautiful religious songs. In today’s political-correctness overload climate we live in, it was just lovely to know so many people enjoy the songs of Christ.

    Great post, Cheryl!

    1. I know, Pam. I love the religious ones and the ones that aren’t–just the “songs of the season”, no matter what they are. Christmas carols always bring joy to my heart because of the memories they bring to mind. Hope you and yours have a fabulous Christmas!

  18. Silent night and jingle bells.

    1. Oh, yes, Jingle Bells! Love that one, too. Nothing like that song to make you smile and bring happiness to your soul. Have a wonderful Christmas, Kim!

  19. My favorite Christmas song is MARY, DID YOU KNOW? It is rather melancholy, but lovely.
    I hope you didn’t suffer from the most recent storm that blew through. Things are shut down here, but just the other side of the mountains in North Carolina it is so much worse. I know it won’t last until Christmas. I do hope we have a white Christmas, but just enough to make everything white, not shut everything down.

    1. Patricia, the weathermen were talking for days about how terrible the storm was going to be, etc. So I went on Wednesday to the store (it was supposed to hit us on Friday) and stocked up on everything and was all set. (I learned this from living in West Virginia for about 10 years!) LOL Thursday, it was a madhouse at the stores and they showed on the news how there was not one loaf of bread left on the shelves, and the milk was cleaned out, etc. I was so glad I had gone on Wednesday. Well, Friday rolled around and they storm had shifted and moved south of us a little bit, then moved quickly on to the east. So here in Oklahoma City, we didn’t get one bit of precip which I was SOOOO thankful for. At least I was prepared and had peace of mind, and I told my daughter, I think one of the worst jobs would be to be a weather forecaster here in Oklahoma City, because of being located where the jet stream usually can go either way. LOL Now we are gearing up for the rest of the winter, which promises to be long and hard. We get a lot of ice and freezing rain rather than snow. So we’ve been watching the progress of the storm as all of Gary’s family lives in West Virginia and it looks so bad out your way! Hope it lets up soon and things are normal for a while.

      I love Mary, Did You Know? too. Hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, Patricia!

  20. Carol of the Bells

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