“O Little Town of Bethlehem”

| December 19, 2013 | 3 Comments
Autograph manuscript of first stanza of O Little Town of Bethlehem, 1868.  Public domain.

Autograph manuscript of first stanza of O Little Town of Bethlehem, 1868. Public domain.

This beloved Christmas carol was written by Phillips Brooks (1835-1893), a Harvard-trained minister who was exceptionally devoted to the children in his Sunday School in Philadelphia. When he visited the Holy Land in 1865, he wrote the children telling them of “standing in the old church in Bethlehem, close to the spot where Jesus was born, when the whole church was ringing hour after hour with the splendid hymns of praise to God.” In 1868 he wrote “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” drawing on his memories of his visit to Bethlehem. There were originally five verses to the text, though Brooks later withdrew the fourth (quoted below).

There are two familiar tunes for this carol. One was written by Lewis H. Redner, the church organist at Reverend Brook’s Sunday School. This tune name is called St. Louis and is most often used in the United States. The other familiar tune is called Forest Green and is used mainly in the British Commonwealth.

“O Little Town of Bethlehem”

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie.
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light.
The hope and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary,
And, gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wond’ring love.
O morning stars, together
Proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King,
And peace to men on earth.

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming;
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him, still
The dear Christ enters in.

(verse 4, later withdrawn by Phillips Brooks himself)
Where children, pure and happy,
Pray to the Blessed Child;
Where misery cries out to thee,
Son of the Undefiled (later changed to Mother mild)
Where charity stands watching,
And faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks,
And Christmas comes once more.

O holy Child of Bethlehem!
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in,
Be born in us to-day.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel.

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Category: Holiday, Living, Music and Books, Themes

About the Author ()

Tanya is a Licensed Kindermusik Educator. She studied music at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She became a licensed Kindermusik educator in 2003. Tanya enjoys teaching piano and voice in her home studio in Orleans as well as Kindermusik at the South Fallingbrook Community Centre. Tanya has participated in award winning choirs which have been featured on CBC radio. She sang at the Canadian Premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Requiem" in the choir under the direction of Dr. Elmer Iseler at Roy Thompson Hall as well as the investiture of Madame Jeanne Sauvé, 23rd Governor General of Canada. She established Kindermusik with Tanya when she recognized the need for a studio that offers high-quality musical experiences for children to enjoy with their families.

Comments (3)

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  1. Brenda A says:

    Thank you! I find it very interesting to learn of little know lyrics, photos, news etc. History unknown is so neat!

  2. Victoria Ess says:

    Interesting post. This is such a classic carol. It brings me back to my school days haha. Happy holidays and best wishes to you and yours.

  3. kathy downey says:

    Very interesting post,thanks

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