firehouse pizza banner

Andy Sullivan: Against the Grain

Since Christmas is on the way, I thought it’d be interesting to delve into Christmas songs: specifically the oldest, most covered and such.  The oldest Christmas song, as I found on is “Jesus Refulsit Omnium(Jesus, Light of all The Nations).  The song is originally from 4th Century A.D(between 310-367).  The song, originating in France, was written by St. Hillary of Poitiers.  It’s a Christian hymn.  It’s believed he may have created the song after the first recorded Christmas celebration took place in 336 AD.

The second oldest Christmas song is “Corde Natus ex Parentis (Of The Father’s Love Begotten).  This song was created circa 4th century A.D.(between 348-413) and was written by Aurelius Prudentius Clemens.  The country of origin is the Roman Province of Tarraconensis(modern day northern Spain. 

Of the oldest Christmas song, the next one is still sung today.  “The Friendly Beasts” is considered a traditional Christmas song.  The song is about the animals present at Christ’ birth at the nativity scene and the gifts they bring to baby Jesus.  The original lyrics of the song were written by an unknown author in 12th century France and the song is set to the melody of the Latin song “Orientis Partibus”.  The modern English words were written by Robert Davis in 1920.  Over the years, the song has been recorded by several singers including Burl Ives, Harry Belafonte, Johnny Cash and Garth Brooks. 

4th on the list is “Entre le boeuf et l ane gris(Between The Ox and the Grey Donkey)”.  This song was believed to be created between the 13th and 16th Century by an unknown author in France.  It’s one of the oldest French Christmas carols that is still sung today.  Like most early songs, the song is about the nativity scene.  Not much is known about the song but the song might’ve by the book of Isiah chapter 1 verse 3 where the ox and donkey are present for the birth of Christ.

5th on the list is “In dulci jubilo)”in sweet rejoicing/Good Christian Men Rejoice”.  The song was created circa 1328.  It was written by Heinrich Seuse in Germany.  This is another traditional Christmas carol dating back to medieval times.  The song’s exact origins are unknown, but Heinrich Seuse is typically credited as the song’s author.  According to German folklore, Seuse wrote the song sometime in 1328 after he heard the angels sing the words and joined them in a dance of worship.  The original song lyrics are a mix are German and Latin and the oldest copy of the song is found in Codex 1305, a manuscript dating from around 1400.  One of the most popular versions of the song is the English version written by J.M Neale called “Good Christian Men, Rejoice”.

6th on the list is “Resonet in laudibus”(“Let The Voice of Praise Resound)/”Christ Was Born On Christmas Day”.  Written by an unknown author, the song originated in 14th Century Germany.  It was widely known and sung all over medieval Europe.  The oldest known written copy of the song appears in the Moosburg Gradual of 1360.  In 1592, the Piae Cantiones-a collection of medieval Latin songs-was first published. 

Next oldest is one of my favorites.  “O Come, All Ye Faithful”. The date of origin is disputed-current form from mid-18th century but the words might be from the 13th century.  The writer is unknown, though it’s possibly John IV of Portugal, John Reading or John Francis Wade.  The country of origin is also unknown only that it’s somewhere in Europe.  The original song is in Latin.

The 8th oldest carol dates to the 13th century.  “Good King Wenceslas” was created in 1853 based on a 13th century carol.  Written by John M. Neale and Thomas Helmore, the country of origin is England; 13th century carol from Finland.  The song is about a king from Bohemia who journeyed through harsh winter conditions to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen, which is December 26th.  Neal and Helmore’s original version is the most successful of the version.

Neale’s original lyrics were set to the melody of a 13th century Easter hymn called “Tempus adest floridum”(The Time is Near for Flowering) from the 1582 hymn book Piae Cantiones.  Although the song is popular, academics have been critical of Neale’s decision to put his own lyrics over the original melody. 


Bookmark and Share