The Story and History of Christmas Song: It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

Like many Christmas songs, this carol was first penned as a poem in 1849, and put to music one year later. The focus of the lyrics is also unique, in that they are about the then current times, rather than the period of Jesus’ birth or life. Written by pastor Edmund Sears of the Unitarian Church in Wayland, Massachusetts, this Christmas song was one of the first written by an American. Sears, born in 1810, attended Harvard Divinity School, graduating in 1837. After which he served for a short time as a missionary in Toledo, Ohio, returning to Massachusetts to serve as a pastor there. At the time this song was written, tensions were very high in America. The Mexican-American war had concluded the year before in 1848, the industrial revolution was underway, the U.S. Civil war was on the horizon, (which started in 1961.) Additionally, the California Gold Rush was in full swing, prompting thousands from the East Coast to make the arduous journey across the country in hopes of striking it rich. Pastor Sears was born and raised in Massachusetts, had returned from Lancaster to Wayland because he suffered a breakdown after working seven long years as a pastor there. The lyrics of It Came Upon a Midnight Clear truly contains the context of the time, along with Sears heartfelt fervor as a pastor with lyrics such as “woes of sin and strife, the world has suffered long” and focus on a message of peace from the angels.

Two Different Melodies

There are two melodies that the lyrics are commonly sung to, most commonly in the U.S. is a melody composed by Richard Storrs Willis, born in 1819 in Boston, Massachusetts. He attended Yale College, and studied music in Germany for six years. After returning to the U.S. he worked for prominent publications as a music critic, including the New York Tribune. During his life, Willis published several collections of music and books, including his own arrangement of Fairest Lord Jesus, which is popular even now. Willis composed the tuned most widely known simply as Carol, had begun being used as the melody for It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, unbeknown to Willis himself at the time. In a letter, Willis wrote that “On my return from Europe in [1876], I found that it had been incorporated into various church collections apparently to Edmund Sears’ text.” In the United Kingdom, however, the lyrics are most commonly sung to a tune called "Noel", which was adapted at a much later date from an English melody in 1874 by Arthur Sullivan. Sullivan was a very successful composer, whose work includes 24 operas, among other popular works. One of the hymn he composed includes "Onward, Christian Soldiers", popular in most hymnals. Related: An outdoor nativity set inspirits everyone by imparting the spirit of Christmas and also creates fantastic memories for many years to come. MyNativity has meticulously crafted our silhouette nativity scene and characters from the greatest quality, marine grade, PVC material. Our nativities are light-weight, yet they are made to hold up against rainfall, sleet, snow, and will last for many years to come. Available in 4 sizes, (Life Size, Large, Medium, as well as Small,) click here to see the various sizes to see which would be best for you.