Stories of Christmas Carols by Ernest Emurian (Baker Book House Co.) is a treasure of history about our favorite Christmas songs. I recommend that every family include a few of these expository readings in their holiday traditions. Charles Wesley, the Methodist theologian, is credited with writing the words to Hark! The Herald Angels Sing as well as some 6500 other songs! The Reverend George Whitefield, who worked with Wesley, published the words to the carol in 1753. It was Jewish born composer Felix Mendelssohn who was asked to set the words to music and composed the popular version we sing today.
The prolific hymn writer Isaac Watts, the son of an Anglican Church deacon, wrote Joy To The World! This carol has been printed in more languages than any other. The musical portion was added by George Frederick Handel and is part of his most famous work, The Messiah.
Silent Night was more than just a song to father Joseph Mohr, Priest of the Church of St. Nicholas, located in the Austrian Alps; it was an event. Chief musician and organist of the church, Franz Gruber, announced that Christmas Eve Mass (the year was 1818) would be done without music since the old organ in the cathedral was broken. Father Mohr remembered that Gruber played the guitar and instructed him to play the poem to guitar accompaniment. The song was named only after the two agreed that their “silent night,” the mass without an organ, was indeed their best.
We Three Kings is the product of Episcopalian rector John Henry Hopkins. In his personal notes, Hopkins points out that the three Magi must have come with a large entourage. Important people traveled that way just as today. Hopkins also notes that King Herod might not have been as troubled by the presence of three as he was by three large groups of people traveling to see the new Messiah.