Hymn Story

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Hymn lists

by book of Bible

Phillips Brooks was a great 19th century preacher — great in oratory, great in the esteem of the people, and great in size — six feet six inches tall.

In 1865, Brooks journeyed to the Holy Land, where he rode a horse from Jerusalem to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve.  He visited the field where (it is said) the shepherds saw the angel, and remained for midnight services at the Church of the Nativity.  He found the whole experience quite moving.

Three years later, needing a Christmas carol for the Sunday school Christmas program, he decided to write one.  Inspired by memories of Bethlehem, he wrote the words in one brief sitting.  He then handed them to his organist, Lewis Redner, asking him to put the words to music.  Redner struggled for some time — trying to come up with just the right melody to fit the words.  Then, on the day of the program, the melody came to him in his sleep.  He, too, did his writing in one short session, considering the tune a gift of God.  (NOTE:  My understanding is that a different tune is used in Great Britain)

This carol has remained a favorite for nearly a century and a half.  How many times have you sung it?  Probably several times every Christmas.  How many times has it been sung?  Only God knows!

–– Copyright 2006, Richard Niell Donovan