History, Chords, and Lyrics to "O Holy Night"

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No program of Christmas music is complete without the moving carol "O Holy Night." Celebrants have been singing this carol for more than 200 years, and its chord structure is familiar to musicians. But few people know the unusual story of how it came to be written.


The earliest iteration of "O Holy Night" was a poem, not a Christmas carol. It was written by French wine merchant and poet, Placide Cappeau (1808-1877), to celebrate the renovation of a church organ in Roquemaure, France. Cappeau wrote the poem during a carriage ride to Paris, using the Gospel of Luke as his inspiration, giving it the title of either "Cantique de Noel" ("Song of Christmas") or "Minuet Chretien" ("O Holy Night").

Inspired by what he had written, Cappeau approached his friend, the composer Adolphe Adams, to set his words to music. Less than a month later, "O Holy Night" was performed on Christmas Eve by opera singer Emily Laurie at the Roquemaure church. Although the song quickly became popular in France, it was banned for a time by the French Catholic leadership because Cappeau publically rejected the church and Adams was Jewish.

John Sullivan Dwight, an American minister and a publisher, is credited with translating the lyrics to "O Holy Night" into English in 1855. The new rendition was published in his "Dwight's Journal of Music," a popular musical journal in the mid-to-late 19th century.

"O Holy Night" Lyrics

1. O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;

It is the night of the dear Savior's birth.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,

Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices,

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.


Fall on your knees,

Oh, hear the angel voices!

O night divine,

O night when Christ was born

O night, O holy night, O night divine!

Additional Verses

2. Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,

With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.

So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,

Here come the wise men from the Orient land.

The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;

In all our trials born to be our friend.

3. He knows our need, to our weaknesses no stranger,

Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!

Behold your King, Before Him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another;

His law is love and His gospel is peace.

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;

4. And in His name, all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,

Let all within us praise His holy name.

Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,

His power and glory evermore proclaim.

His power and glory evermore proclaim.

Popular Recordings

Considered one of the first popular "modern" carols, "O Holy Night" has been recorded by performers almost as long as recording technology has existed. One of the earliest versions was recorded in 1916 by the tenor Enrico Caruso, a recording that can still be heard today. More recent renditions of "O Holy Night" have been performed by Celine Dion, Bing Crosby, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.