O Little Town of Bethlehem is an inspiring and beautiful carol for the holiday season. In 1867, a man named Phillip Brooks wrote a poem about the town of Bethlehem, which he had visited just 2 years earlier.
Brooks called his trip to Bethlehem a life-changing event that inspired him, causing him to want to write this beautiful Christmas carol to celebrate the place where Jesus was born. Brooks was a very large man.
An Episcopalian minister, Brooks was a ninth generation of the Puritans and was six foot six inches tall and over three hundred pounds. He was known for his presence and rapid style of preaching, making him one of the most popular talkers in Boston and Philadelphia.
While in Bethlehem, Brooks attended the Christmas Eve Service at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The service was full of songs and lasted for over five hours. To be so near the actual birthplace of Christ on Christmas Eve inspired Brooks.
He came back to the States and wanted to write a Christmas carol that the children could sing to celebrate the birth of Jesus, which he felt to be quite appropriate.
He loved the text so much that he encouraged his organist, Lewis Redner, to put it to music. The combination together would be known as the popular carol we enjoy today, O Little Town of Bethlehem. Both Brooks and Redner were from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Redner had a lot of trouble getting inspired for the actual melody for O Little Town of Bethlehem. He struggled to write the appropriate melody.
The very night before the Christmas program, Redner was suddenly inspired and a melody flooded his mind. He wrote the tune in the middle of the night and returned to sleep. However, the name of the tune itself would change.
O Little Town of Bethlehem
Text: Phillips Brooks, 1835-1893
Music:Lewis H. Redner, 1830-1908
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.
For Christ is born of Mary,
and gathered all above,
while mortals sleep, the angels keep
their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together,
proclaim the holy birth,
and praises sing to God the king,
and peace to all on earth!
How silently, how silently,
the wondrous gift is given;
so God imparts to human hearts
the blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming,
but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him, still
the dear Christ enters in.
O holy Child of Bethlehem,
descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin, and enter in,
be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
the great glad tidings tell;
o come to us, abide with us,
our Lord Emmanuel!
Here is the easiest way to learn O Little Town Of Bethlehem with instrumental guitar arrangements.
The Importance of The Birth of Jesus
The actual music that Redner used for the original O Little Town of Bethlehem is now called “St Louis.” The carol O Little Town of Bethlehem was first sung by the children’s choir in their Sunday school during the holiday season.
Thirty-six children were the singers for the song’s original premiere, creating a serene and original way to introduce one of the world’s favorite Christmas carols.
Since many of the preferred Christmas carols we know and enjoy today were introduced at a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, the introduction of this song by the Children’s Choir is a unique way to initiate the carol into the public consciousness.
However, it helped to encapsulate the importance of the birth of Jesus as sung by the voices of innocent, happy children.
There are different versions of O Little Town of Bethlehem to accommodate for different voice arrangements. A version by H. Walford Davies is typically performed by choirs rather than as a hymn.
Another version is often sung in the United Kingdom (or occasionally in the United States but only in Episcopal Church settings) adapted by Ralph Vaughan Williams from the tune “Forest Green.”