5 Latin Christmas Carol Lyrics

Group of carolers in period dress, color photo.

Marianne O'Leary / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Singing Christmas carols in Latin is a fun way to celebrate the history of Christmas. Carols have their roots in the 13th century C.E., based on secular songs that were popular then. Franciscan friars took the form and music of the pop songs and recast them with religious texts in Latin, for use in strictly religious contexts. Their function was as a type of religious propaganda, and many were sung specifically in holy processions. 

By the middle of the 14th century, the texts had been translated into vernacular languages (Middle French and English). They became secularized again by the 15th century, becoming carols sung by people outside of religious ceremonies. 

Over the subsequent centuries, the text was updated as the languages developed — for example, as Middle English developed into Modern English — so when you sing a carol in Latin, you can show off your sense of history. Here are a handful of the most well-known English carols in their Latin forms:

Veni, Emmanuel

(O Come, O Come, Emmanuel)
Veni, veni Emmanuel!
Captivum solve Israel!
Qui gemit in exilio,
Privatus Dei Filio,
Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.
Veni, veni o oriens!
Solare nos adveniens,
Noctis depelle nebulas,
Dirasque noctis tenebras.
Gaude, gaude Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.
Veni, veni Adonai!
Qui populo in Sinai
Legem dedisti vertice,
In Maiestate gloriae.
Gaude, gaude Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te Israel.

Regis olim urbe David

(Once in Royal David's City)
Regis olim urbe David,
Sub bovili misero,
Mater posuit infantem
In praesaepi pro lecto:
Mitis Maria mater;
Iesus Christus is puer.
De caelo ad nos descendit
Deus, Dominus orbis;
Ei tectum est bovile
Et praesaepe pro cunis.
Pauperum virum amator
Sancte vixisti Salvator.
Et puertiam per miram
Observanter parebat
Virgini eidem matri,
Quae cum pepererat:
Tentent et discipuli
Esse similes ei.
Nam exemplum ille nobis:
Nostri crescebat instar;
Parvus quondam, imbecillus,
Flens et ridens nobis par,
Perticeps tristitiae
Idem et laetitiae.

Tandem illum nos cernemus
Ex amore aeterno:
Puer enim ille parvus
Summo regnat iam caelo,
Atque eo nos ducit
Quo et ipse praeiit.
Nec in stabulo misello,
Bubus prope stantibus,
Tunc videbitur, sed celsus,
Sedens Deo proximus:
Comites tum coronati
Circumstabunt candidati.

Adeste Fideles

(O Come, All Ye Faithful)
Laeti triumphantes
Venite, venite in Bethlehem
Natum videte
Regem angelorum
Venite adoremus, Venite adoremus,
Venite adoremus, Dominum
Cantet nunc io
Chorus angelorum
Cantet nunc aula caelestium
Gloria, gloria
In excelsis Deo
Venite adoremus, Venite adoremus,
Venite adoremus, Dominum
Ergo qui natus
Die hodierna
Jesu, tibi sit gloria
Patris aeterni
Verbum caro factus
Venite adoremus, Venite adoremus,
Venite adoremus, Dominum

Dormi, Jesu!

(The Virgin's Cradle-Hymn)

Words by S. T. Coleridge and Sibylline Leaves, 1817

Dormi, Jesu! Mater ridet
Quae tam dulcem somnum videt,
Dormi, Jesu! blandule!
Si non dormis, Mater plorat,
Inter fila cantans orat,
Blande, veni, somnule.

Sleep, sweet babe! my cares beguiling:
Mother sits beside thee smiling;
Sleep, my darling, tenderly!
If thou sleep not, mother mourneth,
Singing as her wheel she turneth:
Come, soft slumber, balmily!

Gloria in Excelsis Deo

The refrain of this French carol translated into English as "Angels We Have Heard on High" is "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" in Latin. Here's one version of the English version of the carol. The translation from French to English is by Bishop James Chadwick.

Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o'er the plains,
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains.
Refrain
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Shepherds, why this jubilee?

Why your joyous strains prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be
Which inspire your heavenly song?

Refrain

Come to Bethlehem and see
Him whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the newborn King.

Refrain

See Him in a manger laid,
Whom the choirs of angels praise;
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid,
While our hearts in love we raise.

Refrain

Sources

  • Coleridge, S.T. "The Virgin's Cradle-Hymn." Sibylline Leaves, Ancient English Christmas Carols: 1400-1700, Chatto & Windus, 1914, London.
  • Duncan, Thomas G., Editor. "A Companion to the Middle English Lyric." New edition, Boydell & Brewer, D. S. Brewer, 2005.
  • Latinteach. "Gaudete, Gaudete! Latin Christmas and Holiday Songs!" Latin Teach, December 5, 2010.
  • Rickert, Edith. "Ancient English Christmas Carols 1400 to 1700." Hardcover, Franklin Classics, October 12, 2018.
  • Robbins, R. H. "The Earliest Carols and the Franciscans." Modern Language Notes, Vol. 53, No. 4, The Johns Hopkins University Press, JSTOR, April 1938.
  • Robbins, Rossell Hope. "Middle English Carols as Processional Hymns." Studies in Philology, Vol. 56, No. 4, University of North Carolina Press, JSTOR, October 1959.
  • "The Hymns and Carols of Christmas." Hymns and Carols of Christmas, 2020.