The American Minute: “O Little Town of Bethlehem” – Christmas Carols & Traditions

Seeking U.N. sanctions against Iran, December 21, 1979, President Jimmy Carter stated in a speech:
Henry Longfellow wrote a Christmas carol in a time of crisis, the War Between the States, in 1864.Two verses of that carol (“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day“) particularly express my thoughts and prayers and, I’m sure, those of our Nation in this time of challenge…
I would like to quote from that poem:

‘And in despair I bowed my head.
There is no peace on earth, I said.
For hate is strong and mocks the song
of peace on earth, good null will to men.

Then pealed the bells, more loud and deep,
God is not dead, nor does he sleep.
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.'”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a professor at Harvard, where he taught a student named Phillips Brooks.

Phillips Brooks, born DECEMBER 13, 1835, became the Episcopal bishop of Massachusetts.

While on a trip to the Holy Land in 1865, Phillips Brooks wrote:

“After an early dinner, we took our horses and rode to Bethlehem…

It was only about two hours when we came to the town, situated on an eastern ridge of a range of hills, surrounded by its terraced gardens.

It is a good-looking town, better built than any other we have seen in Palestine…

Before dark, we rode out of town to the field where they say the shepherds saw the star.

It is a fenced piece of ground with a cave in it (all the Holy Places are caves here), in which, strangely enough, they put the shepherds…

As we passed, the shepherds were still ‘keeping watch over their flocks or leading them home to fold.'”

Phillips Brooks returned to Massachusetts in September of 1866 and wrote the carol, “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 hopes and fears
of all the years,
Are met in thee tonight.”

Get the book There Really is a Santa Claus-The History of Saint Nicholas and Christmas Holiday Tradition

Go, Tell It on the Mountain” is one of the most popular Negro Spirituals.

It was first published in 1865 in a collection complied by John Wesley Work, Jr.

It was recorded by notable singers, including Mahalia Jackson, who once stated:

“I sing God’s music because it makes me feel free… It gives me hope. With the blues, when you finish, you still have the blues.”

“Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is born.

While shepherds kept their watching
o’er silent flocks by night,
Behold, throughout the heavens
There shone a holy light.

Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is born.

The shepherds feared and trembled,
When lo! above the earth,
Rang out the angels chorus
That hailed our Savior’s birth.

Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is born.

Down in a lowly manger
The humble Christ was born
And God sent us salvation
That blessed Christmas morn.”

In 1865, William Chatterton Dix wrote the Christmas carol, “What Child Is This“:

What child is this, who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap, is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping? (Chorus)

This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!

Why lies he in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear for sinners here,
The silent Word is pleading. (Chorus)

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come peasant king to own Him,
The King of kings, salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

Raise, raise the song on high,
The Virgin sings her lullaby:
Joy, joy, for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!

In 1885, “Away in a Manger” was published in a Lutheran Sunday school book. It was edited in 1892 by Charles H. Gabriel and set to music in 1895 by William J. Kirkpatrick:

Away in a manger,
No crib for His bed
The little Lord Jesus
Laid down His sweet head
The stars in the bright sky
Looked down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus
Asleep on the hay

The cattle are lowing
The poor Baby wakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes
I love Thee, Lord Jesus
Look down from the sky
And stay by my side,
‘Til morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus,
I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever
And love me I pray
Bless all the dear children
In Thy tender care
And take us to heaven
To live with Thee there.”

In 1829, the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Joel R. Poinsett.

He brought back a plant called “Flower of the Holy Night” (Flores de Nochebuena) which supposedly sprang up as a poor boy knelt to worship Jesus.

Joel Poinsett planted it in South Carolina where it began to be called “Poinsettia.”

In 1856, President Franklin Pierce put up the first Christmas Tree in the White House.

In 1862, Thomas Nast, illustrator for Harper’s Weekly Magazine known for the “Republican elephant” and “Democrat mule,”included a “North Pole” sign behind an illustration of St. Nicholas visiting Union troops.

It was meant as a political jab at the South to imply St. Nicholas was associated with the North.

Prior to this, St. Nicholas came from heaven, the celestial city, the New Jerusalem.

There Really is a Santa Claus-The History of St. Nicholas & Christmas Holiday Traditions

In 1862, President and Mrs. Lincoln visited soldiers in Washington, D.C., hospitals on Christmas Day.

On December 26, 1864, Lincoln gave a Christmas reception at the White House.

On Christmas Day, 1868, President Andrew Johnson proclaimed full pardon and amnesty for all who had participated in secession, without reserve or exception.

Beginning with Alabama in 1836, all 50 States came to recognize Christmas Day as a legal holiday.

In 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant signed a Bill making Christmas Day a Federal Holiday.

In 1893, Christmas Day was recognized as an official holiday in the U.S. States and Territories.

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