This blog is about the story of my family here in America. We arrived in the 1630s as Puritans, and became the common folk of the New World.

Christmas songs explained - O, Holy Night


With the ending of the "divine right of Kings" and the rejection of the corruption thereof, the era of The Enlightenment brought about a new freedom to people in Europe and America. This new era of reason rejected not faith, but the corruption of faith. But, by the early 1800s, there was great concern about the general disinterest in celebrations of religious holidays, especially Christmas.

Most of the Christmas songs that we all know were written in the mid-1800s. And with the popularity of these songs, and books such as "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens, the celebration of Christmas was reborn. And some outstandingly beautiful melodies and lyrics were written that we still hear every year at this time. For some songs, the amount of change that the English language has gone through in 150 years has blurred some beautiful words. I started playing piano as a kid, and I wanted to know what these words meant. But no one seemed to know, or even seemed to care. Now that I am a grownup, knowing what they mean just makes them more beautiful, and precious to me.

O holy night,
The stars are brightly shining.
It is the night
Of our dear savior's birth

Long lay the world
In sin and error pining
'Til He appeared
And the soul
Felt it's worth.

The world here is both the modern world (of the 1800s) and the world before the birth of Jesus. Lay is the past tense for lie, as in the world is lying (down)."Pining" isn't a word that is used much, but it is perfect here - it means a feeling of deep longing.

A thrill of hope
The weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks
A new and glorious morn.

We tend to think of the word "yonder", meaning "off in the distance", as a slang term, but it was a more dignified word at this time. And "morn", is, of course, short for "morning".

Fall on your knees!
O, hear the angel voices,
O, night divine
O, night, when Christ was born!


In this version, Josh Groban sings part of the third verse

Chains shall He break
For the slave is our brother
And in His name
All oppression shall cease

Even though the Enlightenment was bringing freedom to many people, the shame of slavery still existed, especially in the United States, until 1865. This song was written nearly twenty years before that. Reason had freed many people, and the hope was that faith would do the rest. We don't usually hear the second, or third, verses of Christmas songs. Sometimes I would hear them in church. It's worth listening to.

Sweet hymns of joy
In grateful grateful chorus raise we
Let all within us
Praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord
Let ever, ever praise be!
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