The Eleventh Day of Christmas Books

You cannot write about Christmas books without writing about books of songs, hymns, and carols. Each one is its own little narrative, singing the Christmas story in its own unique way.

I grew up with these three carol books, two of which also told stories about the songs. The blue one we often used when groups went caroling in the winter night.

Here is a piece about Joy to the World from The Christmas Carolers’ Book:

“When Isaac Watts published the Psalms of David in 1719, he did not know that had included any Christmas songs in his collection. The Psalms of David was a collection of hymns and paraphrases based on the Psalms. One of these was based on the 98th Psalm, and was entitled, Joy to the World. Watts’ paraphrase, based on neither the New Testament nor the Christmas story, has become one of our greatest Christmas hymns!

Watts, the son of a teacher, and zealous Non-Conformist, of Southampton, preached his first sermon in Mark Lane, London, at the age of 24. His ministry was short-lived. Due to a protracted illness, he was forced to give up preaching. He was then invited into the palatial home of Sir Thomas Abney, where he remained a welcome guest until his death, 35 years later. Watts, himself, said that he had only intended to spend a week at the Abney home. Most of his hymns were writtne while there.

Dr. Watts was a very small man, being scarcely five feet in height. He was in poor health most of his life. His great learning, piety, and gentle disposition, gained for this the title of “Melanchthom of England”. He has been justly called the faither of English hymnody, and shared with Charles Wesley the distinction of being the greatest of English hymn writers. More than four hundred of his hymns are in common use in English-speaking countries. Perhaps his two most famous hymns are, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, and Joy to the World.

Dr. Edward Hodges wrote an excellent psalm-tune for Watts’ hymn. Dr. Hodges’ tune has been replaced by Lowell Mason’s adaptation of Handel’s Antioch from the Messiah. In spite of its fugue, this adaptation has become the standard setting of the hymn. With the spirited Handel melody, Joy to the World is not only well suited to be used as a church hymn, but is also very effective for outdoor caroling.”

From The Christmas Carolers Book in Song and Story by Torstein O. Kvamme. 1935

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