Good Carols: O Holy Night

O Holy Night is a carol with which I was unfamiliar until about twenty years ago. Its tune is rather haunting, and I assumed it was modern. In fact, it dates to 1847, to the hand of Frenchman Placide Cappeau, to Adolphe Charles Adam’s powerful tune. Cappeau’s socialism is evident in his lyrics and the original French is superior to its English equivalent. Below is the literal English translation from the French original, and beneath in italics is the standard English rendering known to so many. I think the literal is theologically better, though not quite as sing-able to that set tune:


Midnight, Christians, is the solemn hour,

When God as man descended unto us

To erase the stain of original sin

And to end the wrath of His Father.

The entire world thrills with hope

On this night that gives it a Saviour.

  People, kneel down, await your deliverance.

   Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer,

   Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer!


O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,

It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,

Till He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

  Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!

   O night divine, O night when Christ was born;

   O night divine, O night, O night Divine.


May the ardent light of our Faith

Guide us all to the cradle of the infant,

As in ancient times a brilliant star

Guided the Oriental kings there.

The King of Kings was born in a humble manger;

O mighty ones of today, proud of your greatness,

  It is to your pride that God preaches.

   Bow your heads before the Redeemer!

   Bow your heads before the Redeemer!


Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,

With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.

So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,

Here come the wise men from the Orient land.

The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;

In all our trials born to be our friend.

  He knows our need, to our weaknesses no stranger,

   Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!

   Behold your King, Before Him lowly bend!


The Redeemer has broken every bond

The Earth is free, and Heaven is open.

He sees a brother where there was only a slave,

Love unites those whom iron had chained.

Who will tell Him of our gratitude,

For all of us He is born, He suffers and dies.

 People, stand up! Sing of your deliverance,

   Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer,

   Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer!


Truly He taught us to love one another;

His law is love and His gospel is peace.

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;

And in His name all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,

Let all within us praise His holy name.

Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,

   His power and glory evermore proclaim.

   His power and glory evermore proclaim.


Nineteenth-century France does not strike me as the godliest of places, with its twin evils of pompous popery and assertive secularism, but it produced a rather splendid carol. I hear it sung on secular radio and formal concerts, but not in our churches and chapels. Another Christmas mystery.