O come, little children, from cot and from hall;
O come to the manger in Bethlehems stall
The hay is his pillow, the manger his bed;
The beasts stand in wonder to gaze on his head.
Yet there where he lieth, so weak and so poor,
Come shepherds and wise men to kneel at his door.
- Christoph von Schmidt
As wonderful as Christmas music is for adults to hear and sing, theres nothing quite like a choir of children singing, Away in a Manger, Silent Night, and even a chorus about a red-nosed reindeer or the jolly fellow in a red suit they hope will lean your ear this way.
If children are involved, all the church and school programs - and tree-lighting ceremonies at the new Justice Center in Evans - will be guaranteed an audience. (Thanks, Niki Morse and the Columbia County Elementary Schools Mass Chorus. You were great!)
But for now, lets leave Santa and his reindeer, and come as little children to see this thing which has come to pass (Luke 2:15). The emphasis on sacred carols is not meant to deny children the pleasure of singing secular songs about a fictional bearer of gifts, but to say that without these carols, our children might not know about the greatest gift of all.
O Come, Little Children (see text above) was written by the noted German author of childrens literature, Christoph von Schmidt. Von Schmidt wanted his readers to know there was more to their celebration than gifts and Christmas trees.
When searching for a composer to transform his poem into a carol, von Schmidt turned to Johann Schultz, who was little more than a child himself. Schultz didnt forget how to construct simple, childlike melodies like this even after he became an accomplished musician.
The Friendly Beasts is a tender bit of make-believe for children. Though the Bible doesnt tell us there were animals in the stable where Jesus was born, the unknown author of this 12th-century carol presumes their presence, and combines poetic license with child-like fantasy to imagine what gifts the animals might bring to the Christ Child.
What Child is This? was the question asked by Scottish insurance salesman, William Dix, while suffering from a serious illness at age 29. Finally Dix turned to God for solace, and his faith was restored. The young man then spent the remainder of his convalescence writing hymns.
It must have been difficult for anyone present at Jesus birth to believe the one who lies in such mean estate could be the Savior. But to Dix and to millions of children who have sung his carol for nearly 150 years, This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing.
Away in a Manger, perhaps the best-loved of all childrens carols, came to us from several sources, and can be sung to at least three, different tunes. A story persisted that Martin Luther wrote this carol for his children. However, although older hymnals may use the title, Luther's Cradle Hymn, and the religious reformer is known to have written several hymns, this carol isnt one of them.
The best-known but anonymous first two verses were taken from the 1885 Little Childrens Book. Sometime later, while planning a childrens program for his church, Pastor John McFarland, added the tender third verse: Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay close by me forever and love me, I pray. Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care, and take us to heaven to live with Thee there.
And with this lovely benediction, I add my wishes for Gods blessing on your children and mine as we celebrate the birth of the holy Child of Bethlehem.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to seabara@ aol.com.)
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