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Holiday Song Stories 2018

The Stories Behind Some of Our Favorite Holiday Songs

In the Bleak Midwinter

"In the Bleak Midwinter” is a Christmas carol based on a poem by the English poet Christina Rossetti. The poem was published, under the title "A Christmas Carol", in the January 1872 issue of Scribner’s Monthly.

The poem first appeared set to music in The English Hymnal in 1906 with a setting by Gustav Holst. The lyrics tell the tale of a English country winter Christmas.

“In the bleak mid-winter

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 mid-winter

Long ago.”

Jesus Refulsit Omnium

The oldest known Christmas Carol is “Jesus Refulsit Omnium” (“Jesus, Light of All the Nations”). It was written between 310 – 367 CE by St. Hilary of Poitiers of France. It is believed that he may have created the song after the first recorded Christmas celebration took place in 336 AD.

Maoz Tzur

Maoz Tzur (Hebrew: מָעוֹז צוּר Māʾōz Ṣūr) is a Jewish liturgical poem or piyyut. It is written in Hebrew, and is sung on the holiday of Hanukkah, after lighting the festival lights. The name is a reference to the Hasmonean stronghold of Beth-zur. This Hebrew song is thought to have been written sometime in the 13th century.

A popular non-literal translation called "Rock of Ages", is based on the German version by Leopold Stein (1810–1882), and was written by Talmudic linguist Marcus Jastrow and Gustav Gottheil.


"Rock of Ages, let our song, praise Thy saving power;

Thou, amidst the raging foes, wast our sheltering tower.

Furious they assailed us, but Thine arm availed us,

And Thy Word broke their sword, when our own strength failed us.

And Thy Word broke their sword, when our own strength failed us.

Kindling new the holy lamps, priests, approved in suffering,

Purified the nation's shrine, brought to God their offering.

And His courts surrounding, hear, in joy abounding,

Happy throngs, singing songs with a mighty sounding.

Happy throngs, singing songs with a mighty sounding.

Children of the martyr race, whether free or fettered,

Wake the echoes of the songs where ye may be scattered.

Yours the message cheering that the time is nearing

Which will see, all men free, tyrants disappearing.

Which will see, all men free, tyrants disappearing."

Welcum, Yole

"Welcum, Yole" is a carol that originated in the fifteenth-century. It bids welcome to each of the twelve days of Christmas. It is one of the carols included in A Ceremony of Carols, Op. 28, an extended Christmas choral work by English composer Benjamin Britten scored for three-part treble chorus, solo voices, and harp.

“Welcome be ye that are here,

Welcome all and make good cheer;

Welcome all, another year,

Welcome all, another year,

Welcome Yule.”

The Holly and the Ivy

The words of "The holly and the ivy" were first published in Birmingham, UK in the early nineteenth century though the song was first composed in the medieval period. The meaning of the lyrics may seem vague, the holly and the ivy are have Christian symbolism to some. The sharpness of their leaves recall the crown of thorns worn by Jesus, while the red berries serve as a reminder his blood. However, others claim that the holy represents the Christ child and the ivy represents his mother, Mary. While still others find symbolic meaning in the fact that these plants are evergreen and do not die in winter.

"The holly and the ivy,

When they are both full grown,

Of all the trees that are in the wood,

The holly bears the crown.

The rising of the sun

And the running of the deer,

The playing of the merry organ,

Sweet singing in the choir."

Santa Lucia

Saint Lucy's Day, also called the Feast of Saint Lucy, is a Christian feast day celebrated on 13 December in Advent, commemorating Saint Lucy, a 3rd-century martyr under the Diocletianic Persecution, who according to legend brought "food and aid to Christians hiding in the catacombs" using a candle-lit wreath to "light her way and leave her hands free to carry as much food as possible"

"Now 'neath the silver moon Ocean is glowing,

O'er the calm billows, soft winds are blowing.

Here balmy breezes blow, pure joys invite us,

And as we gently row, all things delight us.

Hark, how the sailor's cry joyously echoes nigh:

Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Home of fair Poesy, realm of pure harmony,

Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!"

Snow (Yuki)

"Yuki" or "Snow" is a traditional Japanese children's song.


"Snow and hail are falling thickly,

They are falling steadily and piling up,

The mountain and the plain are covered with a white cotton hat,

Bare trees are blooming with flowers.

Snow and hail are falling thickly,

They are falling steadily and piling up,

They keep falling without stopping,

The dog is running around the yard with joy,

The cat is curled up beside the fireplace."

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" was written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane for the1944 MGM musical “Meet Me in St. Louis” where it was debuted by Judy Garland. Frank Sinatra later recorded a version with modified lyrics. In 2007, ASCAP ranked it the third most performed Christmas song during the preceding five years that had been written by ASCAP members.

O Holy Night

"O Holy Night was written by French socialist and a Jewish composer at the commission of a Catholic priest. At the time, this favorite was deemed inappropriate by the church but its popularity in France and abroad have kept it in the repertoire.


“Minuit, chrétiens, c'est l'heure solennelle,

Où l'Homme Dieu descendit jusqu'à nous

Pour effacer la tache originelle

Et de Son Père arrêter le courroux.

Le monde entier tressaille d'espérance

En cette nuit qui lui donne un Sauveur.”


“Midnight, Christians, is the solemn hour,

When God as man descended unto us

To erase the stain of original sin

And to end the wrath of His Father.

The entire world thrills with hope

On this night that gives it a Savior.”

Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella

“Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella" is a Christmas carol which originated from the Provence region of France in the 17th century. The song is usually notated in 3/8 time. To this day, on Christmas Eve in the Provence region, children dressed as shepherds and milkmaids carry torches and candles while singing the carol, on their way to Midnight Mass.


Bring a torch, Jeanette, Isabella!

Bring a torch, to the stable call

Christ is born. Tell the folk of the village

Jesus is born and Mary's calling.

Ah! Ah! beautiful is the Mother!

Ah! Ah! beautiful is her child

Who is that, knocking on the door?

Who is it, knocking like that?

The Wren Song

Wren Day, also known as Wren's Day, Day of the Wren, or Hunt the Wren Day, is celebrated on 26 December, St. Stephen's Day. The tradition consists of "hunting" a fake wren and putting it on top of a decorated pole.

"The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,

St. Stephen's Day was caught in the furze,

Although he was little his honor was great,

Jump up me lads and give us a treat. "

The Wexford Carol

"The Wexford Carol", sometimes called by its first line "Good people all this Christmas time", is claimed to be one of the oldest Christmas carols. It hails from Ireland and its written in an Irish style. It is in mixolydian mode—which is neither major or minor.

"Good people all, this Christmas time Consider well and bear in mind What our good God for us has done In sending his beloved son

With Mary holy we should pray To God with love this Christmas Day In Bethlehem upon that morn There was a blessed Messiah born"

Auld Lang Syne

Auld Lang Syne is based on a poem by Scottish poet Robert Burns. The poem's Scots title may be translated into standard English as "old long since" or, more idiomatically, "long long ago,""days gone by," or "old times."

The 12 Days of Christmas

The earliest known version of the lyrics was published in London under the title "The Twelve Days of Christmas sung at King Pepin's Ball", as part of a 1780 children's book, "Mirth without Mischief." January 5 or 6 is the “Twelfth Night” which refers to the twelfth day after Christmas. It is eve before Epiphany or the day the legend says the three magi reached Jesus' and presented their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Happy Holidays!


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