Songs of the Season

Staff Writer
The Destin Log
Adolphe Adam, Lithograph, 1850

From the first carol sung by angels on the night Christ was born ... "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of goodwill" ... to the recent "Mary, Did You Know?" by Mark Lowry written in 1984 ... Christmas carols spread cheer and joy and the real meaning of Christmas.

But where did they come from?

• If only one Christmas carol could survive, it would surely have to be the most popular carol in the world ... "Silent Night," written in 1816 by Joseph Mohr, an Austrian pastor. In the mid 1800s an Episcopal priest with Florida ties, John Freeman Young, gave us the English translation.

"It Came Upon the Midnight Clear" and its message of peace on earth, was written by Dr. Edmund Hamilton Sears, a minister in Massachusetts in 1849. It was sung during the holidays in World War I by American soldiers in the trenches of France and was a favorite at USO shows in World War II.

• Also bringing a pause in the midst of war was "O Holy Night" composed by French composer Adolphe Adam in 1847. During the Franco-German War in 1870, a French soldier stood up as he faced German soldiers and began to sing "O Holy Night." Surprise, the German soldiers began to sing "From Heaven Above to Earth I Come" — and peace on earth prevailed for a short time.

• America was in despair on Christmas Day 1864, yet still hopeful for peace four months before the end of Civil War. Popular poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow authored a poem for the church he attended, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," with two stanzas clearly referring to the Civil War and the other five giving the message that God was in control and right will prevail.

• A giant of a man, six foot six and almost 300 pounds, young preacher Phillips Brooks rode horseback in 1868 across the "Field of the Shepherds" on his way from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to worship in the Church of the Nativity. So moved by watching the shepherds tend to their sheep, he looked at the beautiful starlit sky and wrote "O Little Town of Bethlehem."

• Usually the first carol that children are taught, "Away in a Manger" was originally published in 1885. Some credit the lyrics to Martin Luther, however the author of the first two stanzas is usually considered American anonymous. It is certain Dr. John McFarland of New York City added stanza three in 1904.

Source: "The Sounds of Christmas" by Pam Griffin, published in 2011 by Cedar Fort, Inc.