November Tea Party Winners: Carrie Fancett Pagels' copy of The Great Lakes Lighthouse Brides Collection - Debbie Curto, Christmas tea - Andrea Stephens, Golden Tea body wash Joy Ellis, lighthouse earrings -- Pegg's SIL from Lake Ann and Perrianne Askew, Pegg Thomas's Leather journal - Shelia Hall, and Writing Prompts book goes to - Connie Porter Saunders

Monday, December 18, 2017

Early Christmas Tunes

Let’s say you’re planning an Early American holiday gathering. A period-appropriate menu and decorations may figure in first on your list, but right behind those mood setters, you’d consider music. Prepare for disappointment. Yes, Colonial American holiday gatherings featured music. Instruments may have included fiddles or violins, harpsicords, flutes, or even Benjamin Franklin’s new invention, the glass harmonica. However, most of the Christmas carols we now recognize had not even been written in the late 1700s, and if they had, they were originally scored to different music.
Let’s take a look at the history of some of the earliest holiday songs. I’m including a link for several of them to my favorite Christmas albums by Mannheim Steamroller. Have a listen. You’ll be transported to a Renaissance banqueting hall with a roaring fire and a cup of wassail.

  • Joy to the World – Isaac Watts, 1719; sung to different music until introduction to America in the 1830s
  • Hark the Herald Angels Sing – Charles Wesley, 1739; revised to its current title in 1753; sung to different music until mid-1800s
  • Greensleeves – 1580; applied to a Christmas hymn around 1686; became “What Child Is This?” in 1865
  • Deck the Halls – old Welsh carol about New Year’s called “Nos Galan” with different words; not translated to English until 1862
  • Bring a Torch Jeanette, Isabella – not originally considered a Christmas song but most likely a 1500s tune of Provence that became a lively dance for French nobility called a ritournelle; translated to English in the 18th Century by a wealthy nobleman Steamroller Bring A Torch
  • Good King Wenceslas – a spring hymn that originates from 1582 to accompany energetic dancing, probably Scandinavian; published in English in 1853
  • Wassail, Wassail – 1600s wassailers went house to house offering warm drink and originated many different songs about their activities, but these were not common in English until the mid-1800s Steamroller Wassail
  • O Come, O Come Emmanuel – 8th or 9th Century Latin song translated by John Mason Neale in the mid-1800s
  • Pat A Pan – French Christmas carol by the poet laureate of Burgundy, Bernard de La Monnoye, published in 1720; translated into English in the 1907 Book of Old Carols Steamroller Pat A Pan
  • Gagliarda – OK, I’m cheating here. This was an Italian dance from the 16th and 17th Centuries, but doesn’t it sound so Christmas-y coming from MS? Maybe you can sneak it in on your faux Colonial play list. Steamroller Gagliarda

This list is far from exhaustive. What's your favorite early Christmas tune? Do you know of any that were played and sung in 1700s America?

Article by Denise Weimer: http://deniseweimerbooks.webs.com


  1. The band For King and Country sings a beautiful version of O Come, O Come Emmanuel. :-) I love Christmas music. Merry Christmas!

  2. Interesting post. I have a couple Mannheim Steamroller albums! I better start playing them!

    1. Yes, their albums always put me in the Christmas mood.

  3. Love my Christmas CD’s. Merry Christmas 🎁🎄

  4. You mean there were Christmas carols before Bing Crosby?! ;)


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