I Wonder As I Wander…


Christmas carols have to be my favorite form of holiday cheer. My husband and I both sang in choir during college as well as in an adult classical chorus a few years ago. My children love to sing too, and one of our friends from church jokingly calls us the family Von Trapp.

As soon as the Thanksgiving dishes have been cleared away, we immediately grab the Christmas CDs and switch out the music in the car as well as in the home stereo. The kids love jamming out to the Phineas & Ferb Christmas album while my husband prefers Straight No Chaser. I love them all. But there is a special place in my heart for the classic carols that echo sounds of ages past.

One of my favorites is I Wonder as I Wander.Written in a minor key, this hauntingly beautiful song evokes strong emotion with it’s simple music and lyrics.

John Jacob Niles

I Wonder as I Wander originated as a folksong from deep within Appalachia. As is true of most folk songs, it was handed down through an oral tradition, the original author unknown. However, in 1933, a collector of folk music, John Jacob Niles traveled to Murphy, North Carolina and came across a revivalist family camped out in the town square. The mother was cooking and hanging her wash on the Confederate monument. The family had been deemed a public nuisance and was on the verge of being ejected by the police. They needed to hold one more tent meeting in order to earn enough gas money to take them out of town.

This is where Niles encountered the young daughter of the family, Annie Morgan. Unwashed but exceptionally pretty, she sang three lines of a song that captured Niles’s attention. He paid her a quarter to repeat the tune. And another, and another. He paide her eight times in all, giving him the chance to transcribe her music and put her lyrics on paper. She sang the same three lines each time, but it was enough to inspire Niles to expand the song and eventually publish it.

Today, this classic carol lives on, it’s haunting melody and spiritual lyrics touching untold hearts. And it all started with a young girl’s song.

I Wonder as I Wander

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

         In case you’re not familiar with the beautiful melody, I’ve included a recording for you to enjoy. Just click on the song title below. Merry Christmas! 

10 I Wonder as I Wander

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For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at: www.karenwitemeyer.com.

26 thoughts on “I Wonder As I Wander…”

  1. I do believe this has to be one of my favorites. I would say it is THE favorite but I love all Christmas music and whatever one is playing is my favorite at the time.

    Thank you so much, all of the Fillies for sharing the history of these songs. As usual I learn so much from you.

  2. Thanks so much. I have enjoyed all the carols this week but this one has a North Carolina and Appalachia connection so I am especially thrilled.

    IWAIW is one of the most haunting Christmas carols in my book. I have always loved it for that reason. Thanks for the story behind it.

    Peace and blessings, Julie

  3. Wonderful story behind the song, Karen. “I Wonder as I Wonder” is a beautiful song, but I guess it’s never been a favorite because it seems so sad. But I’ve always liked how it makes me think of the true sacrifice behind God’s gift.

    Thank you for sharing the history of this story.


  4. Another one of my favorites. I haqd no idea of its history. I thought it was celtic in origin. That is really not far from the truth since much of the music of the Appalachians has celtic roots. This song is from the heart and soul of the common person. It is reverant and reflective rather than joyful and exclamitory. It touches the heart in a special way. Come to think of it, most of the Christmas music I like is that way.

    Thanks for the post. Have a wonderful Christmas and a great 2012.

  5. This is truly a beautiful song, Karen, and haunting is the right adjective. But haunting in a beautiful day. And I totally agree with Mary LOL. Merry Christmas, fillies. oxox

  6. Thanks for telling us the story behind the song, Karen. I love this one and it is haunting and simple. Many times it is the simple ones that have the most impact and meaning. I am enjoying this week of Christmas Carols. Merry Christmas!

  7. Hi, Connie. I’m like you. When I hear the strains of a great Christmas song, I immediately say, “I LOVE this one.” Then the next one starts up, and I say the same thing. 🙂 So many wonderful songs to love for different reasons. Some make me laugh, some have a jazzy beat, some bring back memories, and some, like this one, fill me with awe. Thanks for coming by today!

  8. I agree with you, Julie, about the haunting tones of this song. It seems to touch me in a way that is so unique to other songs. And I loved uncovering the Appalachian roots. Did you ever watch Christy when it was on TV? They had a folk singer character named Miss Hattie (I think) who would sing songs and songwriters would come out and try to capture them on paper. I kept thinking of this as I researched this song. Have a blessed Christmas!

  9. Hi, Kristen. it does have a definite touch of sadness to it, doesn’t it? I guess it’s that reminder of what the birth of Jesus leads to that makes it so powerful. it kind of reminds me of Negroo spirituals in that sense. There is a definite touch of sadness to them, but that is what makes them so powerful. Thanks for stopping by today!

  10. Mary, Elizabeth, and Tanya – my true romance sisters. LOL. Seeing as how Jacob was probably in his 30s and Annie was only about 9 or 10, I don’t think romance was in the cards. However, I, too, wish I knew more about what happened to the little songbird and her family after they were run out of town. There’s fodder for a story in there somewhere I’m sure.

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