More Christmas Hymns Give Me!

I love Christmas carols. In a typical year, I start listening to Christmas music by October at the latest, just to make sure I can be sure to enjoy it fully by the time Christmas actually rolls around. So it makes me sad that we have space for only 14 Christmas hymns in our hymnal. It’s not a big surprise, given that it’s not a lengthy hymnal1 to begin with, but it’s still unfortunate.

I thought it might be an interesting exercise to consider which of the 14 I might be willing to give up, and which ones I might like to add to take their place. Perhaps I’ll even think of an extra few to add in case we one day get a super-sized hymnal.

Here’s what we’ve got in the hymnal now:

Joy to the World
Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful
Angels We Have Heard on High
Silent Night
Once in Royal David’s City
Away in a Manger
It Came upon the Midnight Clear
O Little Town of Bethlehem
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
With Wondering Awe
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks
Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains
The First Noel
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

This isn’t adding or removing entire hymns, but I would be happy if we could sing “Heaven and nature sing” in “Joy to the World” instead of “Saint and angels sing.” When I was growing up, I remember hearing my mother complain that the Mormon version sounds overly exclusive, and I think she’s spot on. “Heaven and nature” sounds vast; “Saints and angels” sounds like a little club of self-satisfied people patting each other on the back for being more righteous than everyone else.

But as far as whole hymns go, I could stand to drop “Once in Royal David’s City.” I haven’t heard that much outside a Mormon context, so it doesn’t really signal Christmas to me. Ditto for “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” It expresses a great sentiment, but the music isn’t that interesting, and I only ever hear it at church. I know that “Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains” is a Mormon hymn, so of course it should also be tossed by this criterion, but I have a soft spot for it because I remember singing it a lot for primary Christmas programs as a kid.

Most of the rest, I love. “The First Noel” is one of my favorites. Also “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” although it would be nice if we could clean up some of the gender exclusive language (“Born to raise the sons of earth”? No thanks.). Even the ones where I’m not particularly taken with the music itself, like “Silent Night,” are so associated with Christmas in my mind that I love them anyway.

Here are some Christmas carols that I wish we could add to our hymnal:

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
Good Christian Men Rejoice
I Wonder As I Wander
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Were You There on That Christmas Night?

I am particularly fond of the melancholy and contemplative tone of “I Wonder As I Wander,” and the longing of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Even if whoever selected hymns didn’t like these two, though, because they’re outside the norm of what we expect for Christmas hymns, I think the first two would fit perfectly in an all-upbeat mold.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. What hymns would you choose to have added or taken away?

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1. The 341 hymns in our hymnal pale in comparison to, for example, the five most popular hymnals on hymnary.org, all of which have at least 600 hymns.

27 thoughts on “More Christmas Hymns Give Me!

  1. 1

    There’s a song in the French Children’s songbook that I would love to see brought into the English version. It’s titled “D’où viens-tu, bergère?” which translates “Where did you go Shepherdess?” It’s about a shepherd girl who went to see the Christ child and comes back to share what she saw. It’s quite charming and lets girls place themselves in the Nativity in a way most other narratives do not. If you google it you can listen to it.

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    I heartily endorse O Come O Come Emmanuel and I Wonder as I Wander.

    My most likely pick would to add would be O Holy Night.

    My fat chance picks are The Friendly Beasts, Brightest and Best, and Good King Wenceslas.

    And I would get rid of the tuneless and rarely mumbled While Shepherds Wayne’s Their Flocks

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    “O Come O Come Emmanuel” is my favorite, but I love it sung by soloists. I have trouble imagining it sung by a congregation.

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    Yeah, that’s an issue I’m never good at considering, HokieKate, but thanks for raising it. I’m not a good singer, and I don’t have a good sense of what works well for groups versus individuals, or for that matter what can be sung easily by amateurs, as so many of us at church are.

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    Once in Royal David’s City is sung a lot here in Britain, and is always the opening for 9 Lessons and Carols broadcast by the BBC Christmas Eve with a choir boy solo opening the first verse for the procession (we’d always listen to this on the radio preparing for Christmas day as I was growing up), so we Brits will absolutely want to keep that one.
    And we sing O Little Town of Bethlehem to the tune of O Saw A Mighty Angel Fly – it’s the traditional tune for the carol here.

    I heartily endorse “O come O come Emmanuel” and “I wonder as I wander”. Also can we have Away in a Manger to the tune Normandy Carol, it’s so much lovelier. I’d also like Sussex Carol (On Christmas night all Christians sing), We Three Kings (of Orient Are), The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came, Sing Lullaby, Unto Us a Boy is Born, and The Shepherds Farewell (Berlioz).

    And for the children’s song book I’d like Little Donkey, The Little Drummer Boy, Girls and Boys Leave your Toys, Little Jesus Sweetly Sleep, Calypso Carol…

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    One major irritation – can we please have more verses for O come all Ye Faithful – why only 1,6 and 7? And please can we not sing the last verse unless it’s Christmas Day, that’s how it’s meant to be sung!

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    As a fellow Brit I agree with everything Hedgehog said. I would also add that the British tune for It Came Upon A Midnight Clear is far superior to the version in the LDS hymn book. Our version of O Little Town Of Bethlehem is also better but not as obviously so as with ICUAMC 🙂

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    A agree about “heaven and nature sing.” “Joy to the World” was adapted by W. W. Phelps to anticipate the second coming instead of celebrating the first coming. Because I grew up with the altered words, I don’t really mind them in the other verses, but the first verse has seemed to me to be out of place in the Christmas section of the hymnal. Two of the changes to the first verse were reverted in the 1985 edition, but the change from “heaven and nature” to “saints and angels” was left in place.

    “Once in Royal David’s City” brings to tears to my eyes as I sing the words or think about them, and I am glad that it has not been discarded.

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    O come o come Emmanuel
    Lo how a rose er blooming
    The other “away in a manger”
    God rest ye merry gentlemen
    Carol of the bells (maybe a little too dramatic)
    Carol of the birds
    Child in a manger (John Rutter) while we are at it, let’s add the rest of Rutter’s Xmas hymns.

    Preemptive “no” and “heck no”
    -Mary did you know

    Also, I’ve been inspired to write a Christmas hymn that I submit for consideration. I’m still working out the lyrics, but I’m toying with the title “No Room” where we sing in the voice of the inn keeper, with a verse or two turning away the holy fsmily, middle eastern immigrants, and another verse or two set in modern day voting to turn away Syrian refugees and build a wall.

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    I never really cared for Once In Royal David’s City until I heard the Lower Lights play it. Still a dirge to sing in Sacrament meeting, though.

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    Btw, the German LDS saints get to have “Lo how a rose er blooming” and both versions of “Away in a manger” in their hymnal. They also get hymns from Mozart, Bizet, Weber, more Bach, etc.

    Jealous. Oh. So. Jealous.

    Proposal: it’s time for a new hymnal and we should defer all committee positions to the German and Austrian musical saints. You guys and gals have this, right?

    I second the motion!
    Good. So resolved.

    Ta-daaaa!!!

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    Several great hymns are not included because they are not well adapted to congregational singing. With an already short list of hymns, this eliminates several good ones. I think that “I wonder as I wander”, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, and “O Holy Night” are out because of this consideration. Just think about what you have heard church choirs do during Christmas, and they all get added back in.

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    *checks German hymnbook, finds a measley 210 hymns as compared to 300+ in English.*

    Um, no, we don’t have both versions of “Away in a Manger.” We might have done in an earlier hymnbook, but not anymore. I remember when the new hymn book came out — good heavens, has it been 20 years ago already — and the song “Angels We Have Heard on High” was in it, which nobody but me knew, and everybody complained was too high and too hard.

    We only have 13 Christmas hymns, three of which are not known to English singers, but minus “The First Noel,” “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks,” “Once in Royal David’s City,” and “I Heard The Bells.”

    But we do have the best Christmas song ever, the German version of “Thine Be The Glory, Risen Conquering Son,” by Georg Friedrich Händel, from Judas Maccabeus.

    So, yeah, you can be jealous of our hymnbook for that reason alone.

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    “Several great hymns are not included because they are not well adapted to congregational singing. With an already short list of hymns, this eliminates several good ones. I think that “I wonder as I wander”, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, and “O Holy Night” are out because of this consideration.”

    el oso, I’d agree with you on O Holy Night, but if school kids can sing I wonder as I wander then surely a congregation can get to grips with it, and O come o come Emmanuel is present in several of my non-LDS hymnbooks. I don’t think it’s particularly difficult. Familiarity is all that’s needed.

    JKC, I second those.

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    In the bleak midwinter

    We wish you a Merry Christmas (in other churches’ hymnals, and often sung in parting during Christmas service. it would be nice for us to have this tune handy. Not sure whether it is international though. Would work in English hymnals.)

  23. 23

    My Baptist hymnal includes all the standards, plus:

    O Come, O Come Emmanuel
    Angels from the Realms of Glory
    Good Christian Men, Rejoice
    Joy Has Dawned (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbSCbZ-1wdw)
    He is Born, the Divine Christ Child
    Birthday of a King
    Oh Come Little Children
    Sing We Now of Christmas
    What Child is This
    One Small Child
    All is Well (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=thotoEXt42E)
    Break For, O Beauteous Heavenly Light
    Infant Holy, Infant Lowly

    LDSMusicSource published a livened-up arrangement of “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks” (http://www.ldsmusicsource.com/music/1115/SeeHear.html#top) that, in my opinion, redeemed a hopeless hymn. Oh, what a little time signature change and some lively accompaniment can do!

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    I had a work colleague once whose family came up with their own lyrics to favorite Christmas songs. The only one I remember at this point was “While Shepherds Washed Their Socks by Night.” I’m sure this is probably as historically accurate as the original text.

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