What Child is This? A History

One of the most beautiful and recognizable Christmas songs is “What Child is This?”.

Believe it or not, the tune – an English folk song called “Greensleeves” – first appeared in the year 1580 (of course back then it was called “A Newe Northen Dittye of ye Ladye Greene Sleves”). Originally the lyrics were about a young lady and her boyfriend, but Christmas texts for the melody emerged in the late 1600s and have stuck ever since.

“What Child is This?” was written in 1865 by Englishman William Chatterton Dix, who underwent a spiritual renewal during a severe illness. Each stanza is a progression – the words start by asking about the divinity of baby Jesus and finish by praising his name:

What child is this, who, laid to rest,

On Mary’s lap is sleeping?

Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,

While shepherds watch are keeping?


This, this is Christ the King,

Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:

Haste, haste to bring Him laud,

The babe, the son of Mary.


Why lies He in such mean estate,

Where ox and donkeys are feeding?

Good Christians, fear, for sinners here

The silent Word is pleading.


Nails, spears shall pierce him through,

the cross he bore for me, for you.

Hail, hail the Word made flesh,

the Babe, the Son of Mary.


So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh,

Come, peasant, king, to own him.

The King of kings salvation brings,

Let loving hearts enthrone him.


Raise, raise a song on high,

The virgin sings her lullaby

Joy, joy for Christ is born,

The babe, the Son of Mary.


For more information, read here.

What are your favorite arrangements of “What Child is This?”? I’m always looking for more Christmas music to listen to!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s